When Barack Obama announced in 2012 that he would temporarily protect dreamers from deportation, he showed that he would not wait for Congress to provide relief to undocumented immigrants.
That was the first time Obama used an executive action to significantly change the U.S. immigration system. And it wasn’t the last.
Univision News identified about a dozen immigration policies established during the Obama administration that could disappear under the new government of Donald Trump, who called some of them "illegal" and "unconstitutional" during his campaign. Trump could eliminate these programs with little more than a signature.
1. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Without congressional endorsement, Obama established DACA in 2012. Since then, it has temporarily protected about 750,000 young immigrants from deportation and allowed them to apply for work permits.
In November 2014, the president established two new measures through another executive action: the expansion of DACA —to benefit more than 250,000 new dreamers— and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Legal and Permanent Residents (DAPA).
These last two efforts were put on hold in 2015 after 26 states sued the president over their implementation. After a long judicial battle that culminated with a tie in the Supreme Court, the expansion of DACA and the launch of DAPA were stopped indefinitely.
Trump has promised to eliminate the Deferred Action programs, but his spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the President would focus initially on expanding the wall and deporting criminals.
2. New deportation priorities
In 2014, Obama used an executive action to establish four categories of immigrants that would become the priority for deportation proceedings undertaken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):
- Priority 1: Terrorists, spies, criminals, gang members and other immigrants who are considered a threat to national security, border security or public safety.
- Priority 2: Those with an extensive history of immigration violations, who crossed the border after January 1, 2014.
- Priority 3: Those charged with drunk driving, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, robbery or any crime with a prison sentence greater than 90 days.
- Priority 4: Immigrants with a final deportation order on or after January 1, 2014.
This change helped immigrants who are now considered low priority and who in theory are not a focus for the field operations of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
If Trump eliminates these priorities, immigration agents could refocus and detain any undocumented immigrant, no matter when he/she arrived to the United States or whether or not he/she has a criminal record.
3. New priorities for immigration courts
In November 2014, Obama urged immigration courts, managed by the Justice Department, to use the same priority categories as DHS to accelerate the most urgent deportation cases and to close low-priority cases.
This change came in reaction to the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied Central American minors the previous summer. By August, the Justice Department had created the so-called 'rocket dockets' to prioritize cases of newly arrived immigrants, a rule reinforced by Obama's November announcement.
"This continued focus will help keep our borders safe and secure,” read a White House missive about the 2014 actions.
4. Removing the Secure Communities program
Note: Trump’s spokesman confirmed on January 25 that the president will restore the Secure Communities program through an executive order.
With his executive power, Obama disbanded the Secure Communities program in 2014, which established a system of automatic cooperation between local security authorities and the DHS.
Under Secure Communities, local jurisdictions compared the fingerprints of any detained person to those of a large DHS database, even before the person was put on trial. If the biometric test showed that the person did not have legal status, the system would inform DHS, which could then issue a detainer asking the local jail to inform them when the person was released from criminal custody, and in some cases advising the local authorities to hold the immigrant for up to 48 hours after release in order to transfer them to ICE.
5. Expansion of U and T visas
With his executive power, Obama allowed the Labor Department to certify T-visa applications for immigrants who have been victims of human trafficking and allowed immigrants to apply for U visas if they had been victims of three new categories of crimes: extortion, forced labor and fraud.
6. Work permits for spouses of persons with H-1B visa
Obama also extended eligibility for work permits to people who are married to a foreign professional who has an H-1B visa and is in the process of applying for permanent residency in the United States. “Allowing the spouses of these visa holders to legally work in the United States makes perfect sense,” said USCIS director Leon Rodriguez.
7. Visas for entrepreneurs without having to go through US companies
Through a 2014 action, the Obama administration detailed new standards to encourage entrepreneurs with exceptional skills to apply for a green card or parole status in the United States without a company sponsor.
This program seeks to attract people who want to establish their companies on U.S. soil, creating jobs and injecting capital and innovation into the country.
8. Expansion of the provisional waiver I-601A
The 2014 executive action expanded the I-601A waiver, which allows immigrants to leave the United States to apply for a visa in another country and return without being affected by an unlawful presence bar. The change allowed immigrants to seek the waiver if they can demonstrate that their expulsion from the country would consitute "extreme hardship" for a family member who is a legal permanent resident (previously they could only ask if their expulsion constituted "extreme hardship" for a relative who was a U.S. citizen).
9. Expansion of Parole in Place for relatives of citizens who want to enter the military
The Parole in Place program already allowed relatives of citizens in the military to apply for legal status in the United States and obtain work permits. In 2014, Obama extended these benefits to the families of citizens who are seeking enlistment.
10. More L-1 visas for foreign workers
An Obama executive action expanded the meaning of “specialized knowledge” when granting L-1 visas to workers who are based in a company's foreign headquarters and are looking to come work in the United States. This rule could be threatened under the Trump administration, whose most prominent campaign promise was to return jobs to Americans.
11. Strategies to welcome new Americans
In 2014, Obama created a special White House task force to develop strategies to integrate the country's new immigrants. He also promoted an advertising campaign with USCIS to promote citizenship and established new assistance to help applicants pay for the citizenship application (N-400).