For the last decade or so, many immigrants have relied on an unofficial program called “Deferred Action” to obtain time-limited temporary employment permission in cases for which humanitarian considerations called for a degree of mercy that our current legal immigration system does not contemplate. For example, an undocumented mother whose US citizen child has cancer and needs to be taken to the doctor for regular treatment. Or, an undocumented husband who needs to assist his incapacitated US citizen spouse to obtain the medical and social service care she needs to survive. The factual scenarios are as varied as there are people in need, but they all had one thing in common–a simple act of mercy would allow them to obtain a work permit, and thus a driver’s license and a job to care for their desperate family.
While the USCIS has never released statistics on the number of Deferred Action cases it approved each year, the numbers substantially increased to the thousands during the last several years of the Obama Administration. An excellent synopsis of Deferred Action can be found here as it related to how the Obama Administration used the authority granted by the Immigration and Nationality Act to imbue just a little bit of mercy into its decision making processes. Larger grants of Deferred Action included DACA, as well as the failed DAPA programs, were also announced by President Obama. At the end of the day, however, these grants of Deferred Action changed lives, helped America be a better place, eased the suffering of both immigrants and US Citizens, and balanced, to a small degree, the scales of justice toward mercy.
Applications for the “one-off” and case-specific requests for Deferred Action were made to local USCIS and ICE offices and were approved on an ad hoc basis, completely dependent on the facts of each case. Over the last two years, we have seen numerous cases which had been approved under the Obama Administration denied on renewal requests, with no change in facts, by the current Administration. Clearly, mercy was becoming a precious commodity.
Unfortunately, we have just learned through a series of denials of case-specific Deferred Action requests around the United States that the USCIS and ICE, as of August 7, 2019, are no longer granting Deferred Action to anyone, except to relatives of members of the U.S. Military under the pre-existing Military Parole in Place program. Mercy has been foreclosed.
People who for several years have had the ability to take their children for cancer treatment, who have supported their families through extraordinary suffering, and who have relied on that small act of mercy from the USCIS or ICE are now left out in the cold. To make it harsher, USCIS is threatening to put the people it denies new and extensions of Deferred Action into deportation proceedings if they do not leave the United States within 33 days of the denial.
Mercy is dead, and we are a poorer country because of it.