Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions: One Year Later
On November 20, 2014, Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, at the direction of President Obama, released ten immigration policy memoranda (the “Johnson Memos”) that unilaterally changed U.S. immigration law by executive fiat. Combined, the memos are sweeping in the number of aliens they cover and the relief they provide— spanning from deferral from deportation and work authorization to a pathway to citizenship. They also create special exceptions for certain workers seeking to enter the United States. In July, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimated that the Johnson Memos would grant amnesty with work permits to 5.2 million illegal aliens and would shield another 4.4 million illegal aliens from deportation. (FAIR Legislative Update, July 28, 2015) Combined, this means that approximately 87% of the illegal alien population would be exempt from deportation. (Id.)
In response, 26 states—led by Texas—sued the Obama administration to stop implementation of the executive amnesty. Importantly, this case (Texas v. U.S.) is limited to only two actions taken by the Obama administration: the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the creation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). In February, federal district Judge Andrew Hanen issued an injunction against DAPA and expanded DACA, effectively blocking implementation of these programs until the case’s merits are litigated. (FAIR Legislative Update, Feb. 18, 2015) The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Hanen’s injunction this month. (FAIR Legislative Update, Nov. 17, 2015) However, the remaining memos are not subject to the injunction.
While the administration released all of the Johnson memos at once, it has been implementing the unilateral changes to immigration law incrementally. Indeed, even on the one year anniversary of President Obama’s announcement, not all of the policy changes covered in the memos have been released in full detail. Some of the memos are being implemented by policy memo while others through regulations. Below is a summary of the major changes to immigration law laid out in the Johnson Memos, and an update on the progress of the implementation of each of them, one year after the administration published them.