The Obama administration announced today a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy change that will positively impact young undocumented immigrants. The DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano, sent a memo to the directors of CBP, USCIS, and ICE stating that DHS will use its prosecutorial discretion to stop deporting certain young undocumented immigrants, provided they meet certain criteria:
- Came to the U.S. prior to age 16;
- Has lived in the U.S. for at least 5 consecutive years & is currently in the U.S.;
- Is in school, has high school diploma/GED, or was honorably discharged;
- Has no felony-level or significant/multiple misdemeanor convictions; and
- Is currently not above the age of 30.
The reason for this policy change is made explicit by Secretary Napolitano's memo:
As a general matter, these individuals lacked the intent to violate the law and our ongoing review of pending removal cases is already offering administrative closure to many of them.The prosecutorial discretion mentioned is to be utilized "whether or not an individual is already in removal proceedings or subject to a final order of removal." In making this policy change, DHS will be able to focus its resources on removing those individuals who are high priority, such as those who pose a national security or public safety risk.
Our Nation's immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. They are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways. Prosecutorial discretion...is especially jsutified here.
Child Welfare Policy Implications
How will this policy change impact the child welfare system? One example is young undocumented parents whose children are U.S. citizens by birth: With this new policy, these young parents can apply for a deferment of action as well as a work visa, thus reducing the likelihood of involvement in child welfare as a result of detainment or even child maltreatment (through lessening of financial and emotional strain resulting from an 'undocumented' status). This policy, in a way, could act as a preventive strategy for children and youth entering the child welfare system.
On the other hand, this new policy also begets several questions relevant to child welfare:
- If the youth applies for and receives this deferred action, and his parents are detained later on, what happens to the youth? Does the youth get placed in foster care, or will officials provide an opportunity for the family to remain intact?
- Will youth be deterred from applying for this status if they fear that their parents may subsequently be detained as a result of the application process?
- What happens if there is a new administration after November's election, and the policy is reversed? Will youth with the deferred action and their families have a higher risk of deportation due to their names being on record as undocumented? What will this mean for child welfare?
Overall, it seems that there are a few points of clarification for the child welfare system that need to be made, including how the actions of either the undocumented parent or the child might affect the other (or not), and what kind of continuity will be in place if the administration does change next year.
Question for our readers: How do you think this will impact child welfare?
Immigration & Child Welfare Resources: