The Corner

The Amnesty Memo

According to an internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services memo going the rounds of Capitol Hill and obtained by National Review, the agency is considering ways in which it could enact “meaningful immigration reform absent legislative action” — that is, without the consent of the American people through a vote in Congress.

“This memorandum offers administrative relief options to . . . reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization,” it reads.

Also: “In the absence of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, USCIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations, exercising discretion with regard to parole-in-place, deferred action and the issuance of Notices to Appear (NTA), and adopting significant process improvements.”

In recent weeks, Sen. Chuck Grassley and others in Congress have been pressing the administration to disavow rumors that a de facto amnesty is in the works, including in a letter to Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano. “Since the senators first wrote to the president more than a month ago, we have not been reassured that the plans are just rumors, and we have every reason to believe that the memo is legitimate,” a Grassley spokesman tells NR. (NR contacted DHS, but a spokesman did not have a comment on the record.)

Many of the memo’s proposals are technical and fine-grained; for example, it suggests clarifying the immigration laws for “unaccompanied minors, and for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other criminal activities.” It also proposes extending the “grace period” H-1B visa holders have between the expiration of their visa and the date they’re expected to leave the country.

With other ideas, however, USCIS is aiming big. Perhaps the most egregious suggestion is to “Increase the Use of Deferred Action.” “Deferred action,” as the memo defines it, “is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to pursue removal from the U.S. of a particular individual for a specific period of time.” For example, after Hurricane Katrina, the government decided not to remove illegal immigrants who’d been affected by the disaster.

The memo claims that there are no limits to USCIS’s ability to use deferred action, but warns that using this power indiscriminately would be “controversial, not to mention expensive.” The memo suggests using deferred action to exempt “particular groups” from removal — such as the illegal-immigrant high-school graduates who would fall under the DREAM Act (a measure that has been shot down repeatedly in Congress). The memo claims that the DREAM Act would cover “an estimated 50,000” individuals, though as many as 65,000 illegal immigrants graduate high school every year in the U.S.

In the immediate wake of the court decision blocking the Arizona immigration law yesterday, the memo is sure to create controversy — and the sense that the administration is bent on preserving and extending the nations de facto amnesty.

UPDATE: USCIS has released a statement on the memo:

Internal draft memos do not and should not be equated with official action or policy of the Department. We will not comment on notional, pre-decisional memos. As a matter of good government, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will discuss just about every issue that comes within the purview of the immigration system. We continue to maintain that comprehensive bipartisan legislation, coupled with smart, effective enforcement, is the only solution to our nation’s immigration challenges. 

Internal memoranda help us do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected. Our goal is to implement policies wisely and well to strengthen all aspects of our mission. The choices we have made so far have strengthened both the enforcement and services sides of USCIS — nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions. To be clear, DHS will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation’s entire illegal immigrant population.

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