Deferred Action or Parole to Undocumented Aliens?

There will most probably be no comprehensive immigration reform this year. At a recent meeting of Democratic senators and immigration advocates, a consensus was reached that it would be difficult to pass a bill before the November election because of strong Republican opposition.

The Democrat’s strategy now is to try to push for the passage of legislations with bipartisan support such as the DREAM Act and the AgJOBS Act.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education Act for Minors) would grant permanent resident status to undocumented students who have been residing here in the U.S. for several years while the AgJOBS Act (Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security) would give temporary immigration status and eventually permanent resident status to undocumented farmworkers who have worked in the U.S.

There are rumors of another option. The current administration may be contemplating to grant either deferred action or parole to millions of undocumented aliens with no criminal record. Such action which does not need congressional approval would defer their deportation and allow them to stay in the U.S. and work.

The rumors about such an executive act have been widespread that 8 Republican senators wrote a letter to President Obama last June 21 asking him to confirm or deny it. The senators were Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Jim Bunning, Saxby Chambliss, Jim Inhofe, Johnny Isakson, Thad Cochran and David Vitter. Incidentally, these senators voted against the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2007.

Their letter alleged that President Obama is pushing to develop a “plan to unilaterally extend either deferred action or parole to millions of illegal aliens in the U.S.” and that this plan will cover those “who willfully overstayed their visas or filed for benefits knowing that they will not be eligible for a status for years to come.”

They asked the President to abandon such a plan because “such deferred action and parole are discretionary actions reserved only for individual cases that present unusual, emergent or humanitarian circumstances.” They further said that it would circumvent the constitutional authority of the Congress to legislate immigration policy.

Deferred action and parole by the executive branch have been granted in the past. I recall that in 1977, the then Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) granted deferred departure to hundreds of out of status nurses, mostly from the Philippines, who faced the threat of deportation for failing their licensure exams or for changing their employer without authority.

Those nurses, including those who were already under deportation proceedings, were given deferred departure status in 6-month increments up to a total of 3 years. And when they passed their licensure exams they were restored to lawful status.

The deferred status was the result of an agreement between the INS and the National Alliance for Fair Licensure of Foreign Nurse Graduates which I represented.