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Where is President Obama on U.S. Immigration Reform?

It seems the question is being asked in many places lately. Where is President Obama when it the discussion turns to Immigration Reform? In 2008, a corner stone of the Obama campaign was his immigration reform policy. And for that, Obama was heavily supported by the Latino, Mexican-American, and in general the immigration community. But today that support is waning and Obama often is criticized for his lack of action toward any meaningful immigration reform during his administration. In fact, the Obama administration seems to have forsaken true immigration reform and is instead, concentrating enforcement efforts on deportation of both documented and undocumented immigrants who may or may not have criminal history.

Last week, the American Immigration Policy Center published a paper titled “Deportation in the Time of Cholera: DHS’s Mixed Response to Haiti’s Earthquake” by Royce Bernstein Murray Esq. After the earthquake of January 12, 2010, Haiti was granted Temporary Protective Status (“TPS”) by the department of Homeland Security. TPS is a designation used to temporarily halt deportations of foreign nationals from this country to regions experiencing extreme civil unrest and violence or natural disaster devastation. It is used as a type of safe haven for those who are currently in the United States without documentation, but cannot safely go back to their native country. According to the Bernstein article, TPS status for Haitians was summarily dismissed in December 2010 and hundreds of Haitians were rounded up, detained and deported back to Haiti where they were subjected to horrible conditions and deadly illness such as cholera. After much criticism of the Haitian deportations, the administration reversed its policy of removing undocumented Haitians last week, and extended the TPS status for Haitians until January 13, 2013.

But deportations continue to be a priority with the Department of Homeland Security. Controversial quotas have been in place in 2009 and 2010, increasing the number of both criminal and noncriminal deportations to record numbers. In 2010, nearly 400,000 aliens were deported, with thousands more put into removal proceedings. As a Chicago Immigration attorney, I see with more frequency even long-time permanent residents with green cards who are detained by the police, or by CBP at the border or at the airport after a visit to their native country, and placed in removal proceeding because of a decades old conviction for a crime that may even have been a misdemeanor.

And so there are those who were skeptical the of President Obama’s visit to the Mexico United States border a couple of weeks ago, where he outlined his policy for major and comprehensive immigration reform. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democratic congressman from Chicago — the president’s hometown — and longtime Obama backer, claims that Obama is “playing games with Hispanics by claiming to be fighting for a comprehensive immigration reform, while not doing anything to stop massive deportations of people who shouldn’t be deported”.

Even though Obama spoke at the border about meaningful immigration overhaul, his efforts fall short. Some consider his recent immigration reform campaign to be little more than political posturing because it is unlikely that any meaningful reform can be passed in this Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Gutierrez has called on Obama to use his Presidential powers to scale back his aggressive deportation policy.

Immigration attorneys and advocates understand that the government does have discretionary power in canceling removal of undocumented aliens and permanent residents whose deportation would have a hardship effect on US citizen spouses, parents and children. Many urge this administration to ease the parameters of “extreme Hardship” cases to allow deserving residents to remain in the United States. Until some action is taken to change current policies, the immigration courts will remain clogged, and many long time permanent residents will have no hope to keep their families united..

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