Humanitarian organization Church World Service welcomes President Obama’s decision to offer millions of U.S. undocumented community members the opportunity to apply for temporary relief from deportation.
“Our immigration system has been broken for far too long,” said CWS President and CEO, the Rev. John L. McCullough. “The president has the full constitutional authority, and a moral obligation to keep families together and stop needless deportations. We applaud his historic leadership and we urge all members of Congress to support the implementation of this executive action. We celebrate alongside millions of our immigrant brothers and sisters who will be able to shed the fear of deportation and live anew. But we also remember the millions who are still in need of relief. As people of faith, we believe in the dignity of all people, in the unity of all families, and in the power of redemption, and that the implementation of this executive action should reflect those values.”
The announcement expands eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include individuals who arrived in the United States before January 1, 2010 and before they turned 16, regardless of how old they are today. Individuals who have been in the United States since January 1st, 2010 and currently have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (greencard holders) will be able to apply for deferred action. The application process for both expanded DACA and the separate deferred action program will include proof of eligibility, background checks, and a fee similar to the current DACA process. Individuals who qualify will be able to travel and work legally, and will have to renew this status after three years. In addition to this expansion of deferred action, greencard holders who have an undocumented spouse or minor child, and U.S. citizens who have an undocumented adult son or daughter will be able to apply for a waiver to allow their undocumented family member to remain in the United States during most of their application process, rather than awaiting their visa outside the United States.
While the White House estimates that this executive action will allow up to 5 million people to receive temporary relief from deportation, more than 6 million undocumented individuals will be left to live in fear of deportation. Most notably left out of this criteria are individuals who do not have U.S. citizen or permanent resident children, including many parents of current DACA recipients, a number of agricultural workers, and a large portion of our undocumented LGBTI brothers and sisters. Individuals who may meet other criteria but who have committed infractions in the past, including re-entering the United States after they have been deported, could also be disqualified.
CWS welcomes the Obama Administration’s recognition that the so-called “Secure Communities” program is a failed strategy that made people afraid to report crimes. As the President’s announcement replaces Secure Communities with a new program, we hope that it will truly be a post-conviction model and that states and localities will be able to choose whether or not to implement it, based on their local realities of building trust with communities. We are concerned, however, that the emphasis on border enforcement will perpetuate unnecessary militarization of the border and hurt border communities. It is also paramount that individuals who are in need of protection have ample opportunities to apply for asylum and are not returned to dangerous situations.
Individuals who may be eligible for expanded DACA or the separate deferred action program can gather documents that establish their identity, how long they have lived in the United States, and relationship to a US citizen or greencard holder. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will not begin accepting applications until early 2015. CWS encourages communities to be on the alert for notario fraud, and to direct individuals` to credible legal resources, including www.uscis.gov, the CWS refugee resettlement network, Justice for Our Neighbors immigration legal clinics,AdminRelief.org, iAmerica.org, the National Immigration Law Center, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association for information and for help filing their applications.
CWS will continue to analyze how this executive action will impact our communities, prepare for its implementation and push for additional reforms from both the President and Congress. While this administrative action helps millions who are here in the United States, it is temporary and will not lead to permanent status or citizenship. It also still does not make our immigration system more accessible to people seeking to come to the United States in order to reunite with their family members or provide a better life for their loved ones. Congress still has to enact immigration reform that will provide a permanent solution and a path to citizenship for all our undocumented community members. Until then, Congress should support the President’s actions and do everything in its power to facilitate smooth implementation.
The CWS network has been praying, fasting, organizing and advocating for changes to the U.S. immigration system for decades, and will continue to push for broad implementation of this executive action and additional reforms from the administration and congress.
“As our nation prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving,” said the Rev. McCullough, “Let us hold in our prayers of gratitude the millions of lives changed by this executive action, as well as the millions of agricultural workers who make our Thanksgiving feasts possible. And let us recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice for all migrants across our nation and world. Let us reflect on the words invoked by President Obama, found in Exodus 23: ‘You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ ”