Immigration Attorney Rick Sterger of Mitchell & Shea: President Obama's Support of Deferred Action for Military Families a Positive Sign for Immigrants

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The Department of Homeland Security recently outlined new immigration enforcement policy rules for the families of military service members. By clearly defining this Agency’s new approach for this population, President Obama continues to use executive power to slowly change immigration policy, and San Diego Immigration Lawyer Rick Sterger says it's time for him to do even more.

It's not the sweeping change we were hoping for. But even though it may appear to be a very minor development, it is symbolic. It shows that the president is not going to wait to expand immigrant rights.

For more than a year, the Obama Administration has been supporting an immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Even though it was not approved by Congress, the president has, under his executive powers, made it the official policy of DHS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This policy has allowed some children who were brought illegally to the United States to avoid deportation and live and work in the country despite their status.

On June 15, 2013, the one year anniversary of the policy's announcement, NBC Latino published "Deferred Action turns one" by Jacquellena Carrero. Carrero writes that an estimated 500,000 young immigrants have applied for deferred action and more than 497,965 applications have been approved. Now multiple media sources have reported that the Obama administration has reiterated its support of deferred action for certain qualified immigrants.

In "Immigrants tied closely to the military get reprieve" published on November 15, 2013, New York Times writer Julia Preston says that the president's new directive represents "an effort to untangle knots in immigration law that left many soldiers worried that their immigrant family members could be deported while they were deployed." San Diego Immigration Rights Attorney Rick Sterger of the law firm Mitchell & Shea says that he supports the president's decision and believes that the steps he is taking are the right ones though he hopes for more sweeping reform in the near future.

"Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level seems to be a promise that never gets fulfilled. The political wars in Washington make such sweeping and necessary reform an elusive goal. Though I do believe such reform will occur soon, President Obama is justified to use his executive power to protect family members of service members. I find it difficult to see why anyone would argue against such a policy." Sterger adds that "this new policy may allow thousands of deserving immigrants the right to stay in the country without fear of deportation. But, unlike DACA, this policy does not consider the age of the person applying for deferred action. That is extremely significant."

The United States Department of Homeland Security released the memorandum that outlines the policy on November 15, 2013 without much fanfare or publicity. This was strategic, Sterger says. "The emphasis on deferred action is momentous but it may also only have a direct impact on, perhaps, a few thousand people. It's not the sweeping change we were hoping for. But even though it may appear to be a very minor development, it is symbolic. It shows that the president is not going to wait to expand immigrant rights. As the president, he has extensive power when it comes to immigration policy. He does not have to get Congress to approve his enforcement policies. I hope he continues to enact policies that benefit the millions of undocumented immigrants who simply want to contribute to this nation's strength and productivity."

The nine-page DHS memo outlines the new deferred action directives, often called "parole in place." Though the department has long been allowed to stop deportations of military members' families, this memo clearly outlines the policy which allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials to “parole in place” immigrant family members of active duty, veteran and reservist service members. This may not lead to citizenship but it will mean that they will not be deported if they qualify. Though the policy is based on pre-existing law, the memo shows that the president is serious about his commitment to immigrant rights, according to Sterger.

"The president is showing a real commitment to the immigrant community. Even though advocates like me want a lot more done, he is taking action. Focusing on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal records, allowing children brought to the United States illegally to stay, being more flexible about who gets deported, and, now, granting service members' families more rights, these are all positive steps. Should he do more? Absolutely. But in the current political climate, these changes may be the only feasible option. These incremental changes to immigration policy, however, are adding up."

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