Obama administration tells agents to find immigrants who should not be deported

Reuters/Eric Gay
The Obama administration has ordered Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to ask if the undocumented immigrants they come across might qualify for the president’s executive action program.

According to the Associated Press, agents are being told to review government files to identify any jailed immigrants who might qualify for release under the new program. The instructions came in an official notice from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The new directions say to “begin identifying persons in their custody, as well as newly encountered individuals, who meet the above criteria and may thus be eligible for deferred action to prevent further expenditure on enforcement resources with regards to these individuals.”

Notably, the directive from DHS reverses previous practices and policies that usually relied on immigrants or their lawyers to make the case for deferment or protections.

The directive also includes training documents providing agents with scenarios on how to proceed with immigrants by going through a checklist of questions in order to determine an individual’s eligibility for the president’s plan.

READ MORE: CBP agents trained not to arrest illegal immigrants ‒ report

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told AP that having his agents ask questions about whether an immigrant might qualify for leniency saves time and money, and "lets us use our resources, particularly the Border Patrol, for the people who are going to be at the highest level."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials began releasing immigrants who qualified for leniency from federal immigration jails before President Obama made the announcement about his new program in November.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and vocal supporter of Obama's immigration plans, told AP that having CBP officers screen immigrants out of the deportation line lets the government "move criminals and recent arrivals to the front of the deportation line."

One of the most controversial aspects of Obama’s executive order on immigration involves a program that will allow undocumented parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents to apply to temporarily stay in the country and work legally. Along with an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which confers similar relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, Obama's policies could allow up to five million people to remain in the country and work. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that about two million to 2.5 million immigrants are expected to be approved for the program by 2017.

READ MORE: Obama extends deportation reprieve to 5 million undocumented immigrants

As many as 1.7 million young immigrants were estimated to be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but since its 2012 creation only about 610,000 people have successfully signed up. One of the reasons given for the low applicant numbers was the cost of the associated fees.

READ MORE:17 states sue Obama administration claiming immigration action is illegal

Obama’s plan has been met with strong opposition from Republicans, who are threatening a showdown over DHS funding if the president does not undo his executive order. Twenty-six states have now joined a lawsuit contending the policies are unconstitutional, and the House of Representative is considering taking legal action.