In a November 20 address President Obama announced a broad executive action that will change the legal status of 4 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

This blog will outline the President’s executive order, looking specifically at the immigration categories and numbers involved. Part 2 will consider the implications for employers and the new Congress that convenes in January.   

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Understanding the President’s Immigration Executive Order

Tue Nov 25, 2014

In a November 20 address President Obama announced a broad executive action that will change the legal status of 4 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

This blog will outline the President’s executive order, looking specifically at the immigration categories and numbers involved. Part 2 will consider the implications for employers and the new Congress that convenes in January.

Categories and Numbers—

It’s estimated that about 11.4 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. The President’s executive order would temporarily exempt about 4 million of these immigrants from deportation.

More specifically, the November 20 executive action covers two principal categories:

One, the order offers a legal reprieve from deportation for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders). These parents must have resided in the U.S. for at least five years. Some 3.7 million illegal immigrants are thought to be in this category.

Eligible individuals will be able to apply, starting this spring, for relief from deportations that would continue for a period of three years and could be renewed. To be considered for this special temporary protection, parents must register with the U.S. government, pass criminal background checks, pay fees, show that their child was born before November 20, 2014 and that they have resided in the U.S. for at least five years and start paying taxes. They may also apply for work permits for a three-year period.

Two, the President’s executive order expands the program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This program, announced by presidential executive order in 2012, allows 1.2 million young illegal immigrants, “Dreamers” who arrived in the U.S. as children, to apply for deportation relief.

The President’s November 20 announcement expands the DACA program by removing the existing age cap of 30 years and moving up the eligible U.S. arrival date from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010. In other words, children brought to the U.S. by their parents in 2009 or earlier, regardless of their current age, may apply to be temporarily exempted from deportation.

DACA program expansion will qualify another 300,000 immigrants, bringing total DACA-eligibles to 1.5 million. Incidentally, the parents of DACA program children are not covered by the President’s immigration executive order.

In sum, of the estimated 11.4 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. the President’s two executive orders will offer a temporary safe harbor to 5.2 million, almost half of the total undocumented population in the U.S.

Next Steps—

President Obama’s immigration executive order has set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, with Republicans saying the President lacks the Constitutional authority to change immigration law without Congressional legislation. It remains to be seen how this will play out in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is expected soon to issue detailed regulations implementing the executive order, including for temporary work permits and guidance for employers. Clearly the federal agency with responsibility for immigration policy stands to be deluged by 5 million applications for temporary deportation protection and work permits, including conducting background checks. It could take many months to review applications and issue necessary documentation.

Part 2 of this blog will look at some implications of the President’s executive order for employers as well as next year’s outlook for immigration legislation on Capitol Hill.