May 28, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 28, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

President Obama’s Immigration Law Reform

As speculation regarding President Obama’s pending decision to reform immigration via executive action dominates the media, his administration last month finalized a program aimed at family reunification. Although this program, known as the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program, or HFRP, will not affect a significant number of people, it will have profound meaning for the limited number of families affected.

HFRP will allow Haitian beneficiaries of approved family petitions to join their relatives in the U.S. before a visa is available. Since only a limited number of immigrant visas are available in a given year, even individuals with approved petitions are forced to wait several years, sometimes more than a decade, to be reunited with their families living in the U.S.

The program is reserved for Haitians whose immigrant visas are expected to be available within two years. Eligible individuals will be able to join their family in the U.S. and work lawfully until they are reached in the waiting list to receive a “green card.” In other words, while waiting for a green card, these Haitians will be “paroled” into the U.S., enabling them to avoid deportation and to receive work authorization in a manner similar to the foreign nationals who arrived illegally as children and are becoming eligible for a reprieve from deportation and a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Beginning in early 2015, the State Department will notify U.S. citizens and permanent residents with approved petitions for family members in Haiti whether they are eligible for the reunification program. Only those contacted by the government may receive this special benefit.

While it is unknown how many people will benefit from the HFRP, there are currently about 100,000 people in Haiti who are the beneficiaries of approved family petitions and are waiting for a visa to become available. Given the new path for expedited family reunification, officials are urging Haitians not to attempt to make the trip across dangerous waters until notified.

Although family reunification is at the heart of the administration’s immigration goals, another impetus for HFRP was the January 2010 earthquake, which was the Western Hemisphere’s most devastating natural disaster on record. It killed 300,000 people, injured another 300,000, and left 1.5 million people homeless. According to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, Haitains living in the U.S. sent $2 billion in remittances to Haiti in 2013. These funds proved vital to the country’s weak economy, and it is hoped that HFRP will funnel even more desperately needed money into Haiti.

Immigration advocates laud Obama for enacting the program, although they add there is more he can do to keep families together. They also worry that limits on eligibility and staff shortages will mean the program will only affect a few thousand people, rather than tens of thousands. On the other hand, other groups which favor limiting immigration, like the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), denounce this humanitarian program as a blatant circumvention of the law.

The HFRP is a small example of the types of broader reforms that President Obama plans to accomplish through Executive Action. Another anticipated plan which draws on existing immigration parole programs for Haitians and childhood arrivals, will grant work permits and stays from deportation to undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years, and whose children are either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. That reform is estimated to affect 4.5 million undocumented immigrants.

The precise details of immigration reform through executive action or legislation remain to be seen. However, we can expect significant changes soon. President Obama said he will act before the end of the year to “improve the functioning of our immigration system.” He has also assured Congress he would reverse any action he takes if Congress would enact acceptable comprehensive immigration reform. However, Republicans in Congress are vowing to do everything they can to prevent such executive action, including refusal to pass a budget unless it expressly prohibits Obama’s amnesty plans. Budget changes are unlikely to assist Congressional opponents because the agency involved works based on application fees and would not succumb to a congressional closedown.

Immigration is a divisive issue in the U.S. today, and at this stage the only thing that is certain is that there will be a battle between the immigration advocates and opponents in government. Keep your eyes and ears open and stay informed about any policy changes, and contact an experienced immigration attorney if you think the reform may directly impact you or your loved ones.

* This article is based on information available as of its publication and is not intended to be all-inclusive or to furnish advice in a particular case. Please feel free to contact our office for further information and advice.

 

Michael J. Wildes, is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and teaches Business Immigration Law. Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. has offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida. If you would like to contact Michael Wildes please email him at [email protected] and visit the firm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com.

By Michael J. Wildes, Esq.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles