U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) this week joined with 21 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to establish a rigorous, consistent and orderly process for handling requests for stays of deportation from young people who would qualify for the DREAM Act if it were to become law.
The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has granted "deferred action" to some young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act. But it has done so without a formal process, leading to inconsistent handling of cases by different field offices around the country. The senators requested that the Obama administration consider establishing a formal process for applying for deferred action and for tracking of DREAM Act cases, to ensure more consistent treatment of like cases. The letter notes that DREAM Act students, unlike violent criminals or individuals who are a threat to national security, are not an enforcement priority and that deferred action in such cases can help conserve limited law enforcement resources. The senators stated:
"We strongly believe that DREAM Act students should not be removed from the United States, because they have great potential to contribute to our country and children should not be punished for their parents' mistakes."
Under the DREAM Act, students could earn legal permanent status if they arrived in the United States at the age of 15 or younger and have lived in this country for at least five years, graduate from high school, keep a clean record, and complete two years of college or service in the Armed Forces.
In addition to Senators Boxer, the letter was signed by Senators Akaka (D-HI), Begich (D-AK), Bennet (D-CO), Bingaman (D-NM), Blumenthal (D-CT), Cantwell (D-WA), Coons (D-DE), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Kerry (D-MA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), Lieberman (I-CT), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-NE), Reed (D-RI), Reid (D-NV) and Whitehouse (D-RI).
April 13, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to discuss our mutual interest in a talented group of responsible young people with the potential to further enrich our great nation: individuals eligible for immigration relief under the DREAM Act.
We know that you share our desire to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation as soon as possible, and we appreciate your support for our efforts to find solutions to this critical problem facing our nation. While we continue to work toward enactment of comprehensive reform of out immigration system, we have also brought to enact the DREAM Act. This legislation would have a select group of student the chance to earn legal status if they arrived in the United States when they were 15 or younger, have lived in this country for at least five years, have good moral character, are not inadmissible or removable under a number of specified grounds, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and attend college of serve in the military for two years.
As you know, the DREAM Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives and recieved a bipartisan majority vote in the U.S. Senate in December. Unfortunatley, the support of 55 senators was not enough to overcome a filibuster by the bill's opponenets. We greatly appreciated your strong support for the DREAM Act last year and look forward to working with you to enact it into law in the 112th Congress.
You are the nation's chief law enforcement officer and are, of course, obligated to enforce the law. However, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in light of law enforcement priorities and limited resources has a long history in this nation and is sully consistent with our strong interest in the rule of law. Your Administration has a strong record of enforcement, having deported a record number of undocumented immigrants last year. As the same time, you have granted deferred action to a small number of DREAM Act students on a case-by-case basis, just as the Bush Administration did. Granting deferred action to DREAM Act students, who are not an enforcement priority for DHS, helps to conserve limited enforcement resources.
We would support a grant of deferred action to all young people who meet the rigorous requirements necessary to be eligible for cancellation of removal or a stay of removal under the DREAM Act, as requested on a bipartisan basis by Senators Durbin and Lugar last April. We strongly believe that DREAM Act students should not be removed from the Unites States, because they have great potential to contribute to our country and children should not be punished for their parents' mistakes. As you said in your State of the Union Address, "let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation."
We would also support steps short of this hat you can take to establish a more orderly and consistent process for handling individual DREAM Act cases.
For example, your administration could establish and publicize a process for DREAm Act students to apply for a deferred action. Currently, there is no formal process for applying for deferred action, and many DREAM Act students are unaware of this option. Indeed, the Bush Administration's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsmen recommended establishing a process for applying for deferred action.
Your administration could also require reporting and tracking of DREAM Act cases. It is our understanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have a process for reporting and tracking DREAM Act cases. As a result, there is no mechanism for ensuring consistent handling of cases by different field offices around the country; no one knows how many DREAM Act eligible individuals are in removal proceedings, how many have applied for deferred action, and how many have been removed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field offices frequently deny requests for deferred action in DREAM Act cases without ICE headquarters' knowledge. Headquarters often only learns about DREAM Act cases from Congressional action prior to granting deferred action. The Bush Administration's USCIS Ombudsmen also recommended tracking and headquarters review of deferred action requests to help ensure that there is no geographic disparity in approvals or denials of deferred action requests and that like cases are decided in like manner.
Finally, your administration could decide whether to grant deferred action as early as possible in the process of each individual case. Under current practice, DHA typically will not grant deferred action in a DREAM Act case until an individual recieved a final order of deportation and frequently not until days or hours before the removal date. This is an inefficient use of limited resources and is inconsistent with long-standing DHS policy. As then-INS Commissioner DOris Meissner explained in "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion," a November 17, 2000 memorandum that is still official DHS policy: "AS a general matter, it is better to excercise favorable discretion as early in the process as possible, once the relevant facts have been determined, in order to conserve the Service's resources and in rocgintion of the alien's interest in avoiding unnecessary legal proceedings."
Thank you for considering these and other measures that would help to provide a more orderly process for handling the cases of young people who would be eligible for relief under the DREAM Act. We look forward to working with you on ways we can enable this talented group of young people to contribute to this nation they call home.
Assistant Majority Leader
Chairman, Judiciary Committee
Chairman, Armed Services Committee
Daniel K. Akaka
Michael F. Benner
Christopher A. Coons