This week, a federal judge temporarily halted President Obama's most recent executive actions on immigration. But what exactly does that mean?
Josh Gerstein of Politico explained the decision as well as anyone:
"More than two days after a federal judge blocked expansion of President Barack Obama's drive to grant quasi-legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants, officials said administration lawyers were still debating how to challenge the injunction..."
Why "quasi-legal status" and not "temporary legal status"? Because USCIS is clear that DACA and DAPA do "not confer lawful status" but rather grant "deferred action" to individuals who are in the country unlawfully. Individuals in "deferred action," are considered "lawfully present" but do not have "legal status," which only Congress can grant.
Maria Sacchetti of the Boston Globe also offered a helpful summary of the decision:
"The injunction paralyzed Wednesday's planned expansion of Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which started in 2012, and grants temporary work permits and residency to illegal immigrants brought here as children.
"The judge also halted a second program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which would grant work permits to parents of US citizens and green card holders starting in May."
If only these programs were as simple as their slogans. There is no requirement for DACA applicants (including those who came on their own as teenagers looking for work) to prove they were brought to the U.S. by their parents. Nevertheless, Sacchetti and Gerstein rightly report that the injunction blocks the granting of "deferred action" (or "quasi-legal status") and work permits. Their reporting accurately reflects the judge's own explanation of his ruling:
"Obviously, this injunction (as long as it is in place) will prevent the immediate provision of benefits and privileges to millions of individuals who might otherwise be eligible for them in the next several months under DAPA and the extended-DACA. The Court notes that there is no indication that these individuals will otherwise be removed or prosecuted. They have been here for the last five years and, given the humanitarian concerns expressed by Secretary Johnson, there is no reason to believe they will be removed now."
The ruling does not change the deportation picture
On this point, DHS Secretary Johnson agreed with the judge. Noting that the ruling does not limit his choices of when to enforce the law (and when not to), Johnson says "The priorities established in my November 20, 2014 memorandum entitled "Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants" remain in full force and effect."
Judge Hanen's injunction allows for non-enforcement but prevents "the affirmative act of bestowing multiple, otherwise unobtainable benefits upon an individual."
"All we are saying is 'we won't deport' you"
That's what President Obama said in his televised November address. Until Judge Hanen's ruling, we could safely say that the President wasn't being completely transparent. But in preventing Obama from granting work permits, social security numbers and other benefits and privileges, Judge Hanen transformed the president's deceptive claim into a truthful statement. Truly, all Secretary Johnson is saying now is there will be no effort to remove individuals who had been targeted for DACA or DAPA.
Are some in the media rooting for mass deportations?
Despite the clarifications from both Judge Hanen and Secretary Johnson, many news stories this week gave the impression that Hanen's decision would unleash a flurry of deportations upon millions who could no longer be "shielded" from the law.
Fox News reported that Johnson had suspended "an expanded program shielding young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally from deportation."
The Associated Press reported that "President Barack Obama's plan to shield more than 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation is on hold."
Max Ehrendfreund of Wonkblog on the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration would not be able to implement its program "to delay deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants"
No, they are not rooting for millions of deportations without delay (at least, I don't believe they are). These alarmist reports are the product of the White House's very successful strategy to sell the executive actions exclusively as deportation relief. The goal has been to avoid questions about issuing millions of work permits to the unlawfully-present citizens of other countries during a time of economic uncertainty for citizens of the United States. The effort has been so successful in some corners that it's been hard to switch focus from "deportation relief" to "the affirmative act of bestowing multiple, otherwise unobtainable benefits [ahem, work permits, etc.] upon an individual."
Since "all [the White House] is saying is 'we're not going to deport you'," the injunction must mean that deportations are imminent.
The difference between a threat and a probability (It's harder to get deported than it is to win the visa lottery.)
The injunction does mean that the targeted recipients of DAPA and the DACA expansion will not get the three years of immunity from U.S. immigration law that DHS was offering. By law, they are as deportable as anyone who is unlawfully present.
David Montero of the San Bernardino County Sun and Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan of Reuters alluded to the "threat of deportation" in their reporting this week. Perhaps that's the unwritten explanation for the continued emphasis on deportation from other reporters.
How great is the "threat of deportation"? In Fiscal Year 2014, 6,466 individuals were removed from the interior who were not convicted criminals, immigration fugitives, or repeat immigration violators -- that's .058% (less than six one-hundreths of one percent) of the approximately 11.2 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S. By comparison, .3% of the 15 million visa lottery entrants every year "win" the opportunity to apply for U.S. green cards.
Interior removals have fallen every year Obama has been in office and Secretary Johnson has pledged to expand the administration's non-enforcement policies further. As former acting director of ICE John Sandweg told the LA Times, "If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero."
I'm sure those 6,466 individuals would say the threat of deportation turned out to be very real indeed. But next time you read a news story about "millions" living with the threat of deportation due to Judge Hanen's injunction, remember the odds and ask yourself what the bigger story is: 6,000-7,000 unauthorized aliens without criminal records could be deported this year; or 4-5 million unauthorized aliens will not be granted permission to compete with U.S. citizens and legal immigrants for the next American jobs?
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standard's Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Oct 11th 2017 @ 3:31pm EDT