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ImmigrationU.S. mulls legalizing classes of undocumented aliens in absence of immigration reform

Published 3 August 2010

An internal U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) memo, titled “Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” indicates that high level officials within the Obama administration may be considering ways to legalize classes of undocumented immigrants in case Congress does not deal with formal legalization for the estimated 10.8 million immigrants without papers

It is not likely that Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform this year, so the Obama administration is considering ways it could act without congressional approval to achieve many of the objectives of the initiative, including giving permanent resident status, or green cards, to large numbers of people in the country illegally.

ProPublica’s Marcus Stern writes that the ideas were outlined in an unusually frank draft memoprepared for Alejandro N. Mayorkas, director of the federal agency that handles immigration benefits, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). The memo lists ways the government could grant permanent resident status to tens of thousands of people and delay the deportation of others, potentially indefinitely.

In the absence of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, CIS can extend benefits and/or protections to many individuals and groups by issuing new guidance and regulations,” said the memo, which was prepared by four senior officials from different branches of USCIS.

The Miami Herald’s Alfonso Chardy notes that one group that could receive green cards are the almost 400,000 current holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who include Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans.

The memo says young students who could qualify for green cards under pending legislation known as the DREAM Act could be granted deferred action, an immigration measure that delays deportation.

Another option for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries, the memo says, would be to “move forward” to 1996 — or another date — the registry provision of immigration law that makes eligible for green cards undocumented immigrants present in the United States since before 1 January 1972.

Besides listing possible options for TPS holders and DREAM Act candidates, the memo also lists other options for multiple categories of undocumented immigrants as well as legal workers, professionals, and investors.

Stern notes that the 11-page document was made public last Thursday by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who with six other senators wrote to Obamamore than a month ago, asking for his assurance that rumors that some sort of reprieve was in the works for millions of illegal immigrants were not true.

Christopher Bentley, a USCIS spokesman, told Stern that the agency would not comment on details of the memo, which he described as an internal draft that “should not be equated with official action or policy of the Department…We continue to maintain that comprehensive bipartisan legislation, coupled with smart, effective enforcement, is the only solution to our nation’s immigration challenges.”

Bentley said that internal memos help the agency “do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected” and that “nobody should mistake deliberation and exchange of ideas for final decisions.”

To be clear,” he wrote Stern in an e-mail, the Obama administration “will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation’s entire illegal immigrant population.”