Values: All families deserve the chance to stay together.
In any fair society, the right to family unity — of parents and children to stay together without fear of forced separation — is fundamental.
Problem: US deportation relief policies deny many families that chance.
Under executive actions announced by the Obama administration in November 2014, unauthorized immigrants who are parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents, or who were brought to the US as children, may be eligible for a work permit and relief from deportation for three years, under the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. But DACA and DAPA (currently on hold after a legal challenge) exclude most immigrants with a criminal record.
Disqualifying criteria are vague and over-broad.
Immigrants are ineligible for DACA or DAPA if they have convictions for a felony or three or more misdemeanors — including ticketable violations such as littering and “parking after dark” — or a single “significant misdemeanor.” A conviction for an “aggravated felony,” (a term that covers many offenses that under criminal law are neither “aggravated” nor “felonies”) is an automatic bar. A single DUI is also disqualifying.
Restrictive eligibility requirements deny justice by ignoring individual circumstances.
In any fair system of justice, the facts of an individual case are weighed — considerations such as the nature of the offense, how long ago it occurred, and the kind of life the person has lived since — before a sanction, tailored to that offense, is delivered. Immigration officials rarely consider such factors, short-circuiting justice. Moreover, applicants denied relief under DAPA or DACA have no opportunity to appeal the decision.
Criminal bars impose a cruel double punishment.
In denying relief under DAPA or DACA the government effectively sentences immigrants to permanent exile — from their communities, their families, their lives. To impose this punishment regardless of the hardship caused both to the immigrant deported and the family left behind is blatantly unfair. Note that the immigrant has already been punished for the original offense, possibly with jail time; deportation is another drastic punishment on top of that.
Solution: Broaden eligibility for DACA and DAPA in keeping with fundamental values of justice and fairness.
- Revise the criteria for relief under DAPA and DACA. The government should reduce the number of “criminal bars” to deportation relief
- Expand the use of discretion by immigration officials. The Department of Homeland Security should strongly encourage immigration officials to weigh all the circumstances of an individual case before ruling on an application for relief, and to start from a presumption of eligibility.