As rumors circulate regarding President Obama’s announcement of executive action on immigration reform, we and our faith partners serving migrant communities in the U.S. are bracing ourselves for what this action will contain.
I was able to participate in a webinar hosted by National Immigration Law Center (NILC) which provided a plethora of information regarding the upcoming executive action. Although we do not know the entirety of what will happen, we do know it will include an expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that will include older and more recent Dreamers (those who qualify as childhood arrivals) and an expansion of deferred action for adults. This is good news. We also hope for action that ends family detention, increases due process in migrant cases, and improves responses to migrant survivors of targeted and domestic violence.
Those politicians who oppose administrative action question the President’s legal authority to take action. The NILC provided extensive information regarding a response to this opposition. As the Chief Executive, the President has the authority to decide how to allocate resources in order to enforce laws. This authority is called prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutorial discretion is the same power that gives a police officer authority to give a warning instead of a ticket. In immigration enforcement context, an example would be a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officer deciding whether or not to ignite a removal process on a specific individual.
According to NILC, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US and DHS can only deport one percent per year, making prosecutorial discretion inevitable. NILC hopes for the creation of a program that would allow undocumented migrants to come forward, without fear of deportation, prove that they meet program requirements, and make their case against being deported. The creation of such a program by President Obama would give order to the current chaos of individual DHS officers using prosecutorial discretion inconsistently.
As Columbans we encourage action that is supportive of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to this country as migrants, some fleeing violence, all looking for a better life. We have a responsibility as Catholics to welcome the stranger in our land and care for the weak and vulnerable. We see hope in President Obama’s potential action regarding immigration relief and look forward to this administrative announcement that should arrive in the next few weeks.