The Obama administration, which has had to fend off lawsuits from its own ICE agents for its refusal to fully enforce existing immigration law, continues to find new ways to skirt the law through executive action.
Earlier this month, the administration issued a memo directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) personnel to use “prosecutorial discretion” to award green cards to immigrants who violate the terms of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The program allows individuals from designated countries to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa, and that period can only be extended for “emergency” reasons. Individuals entering the country under the VWP also waive their right to contest a removal order placed against them.
The Obama administration, via executive order, has essentially voided the 90-day time limit under the VWP, arguing that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may not only decline to remove an individual who overstays, but also has the authority to award that individual a green card under certain conditions. The memo is broadly written so as to allow people who have already been issued a removal order to receive a green card.
It is estimated that about 40 percent of the illegal immigrants living in the United States entered the country legally on a visa or through a program like the VWP, but never left.
President Obama has come under fire for his allegedly strict deportation policies, even though some analysts believe the statistics provided by USCIS are wildly misleading. The president has repeatedly thrown cold water on the notion that he is willing, and has the authority, to broadly halt deportations through executive action, but on Tuesday, the White House did not rule out some sort of executive fix in the event that Congress fails to pass comprehensive immigration reform.