One year ago, President Obama announced executive actions his Administration would take on immigration. These actions were meant as common-sense reforms to an immigration system that has not been upgraded in more than 20 years. The series of reforms range from temporary protections for an expanded group of unauthorized young people (expanded DACA) and parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (DAPA), to modernizing and streamlining the visa application process, to new guidance to better prioritize the immigration agencies’ use of their limited enforcement resources and a replacement of Secure Communities with the PEP program.

The centerpiece of the executive actions—expanded DACA and DAPA—is in the midst of a protracted legal battle, with the Administration fighting to defend these initiative all the way to the Supreme Court. DACA and DAPA have become highly-politicized despite their worthy goal of keeping families together while ensuring that the government’s enforcement resources are targeted toward real security threats. There are economic costs of delaying these initiatives as well. According to the Center for American Progress, expanded DACA and DAPA would add billions to the U.S economy each year. The U.S. economy loses $8.4 million each and every day these programs are delayed.

With today’s announcement that the Department of Justice has filed a formal request that the Supreme Court review the lawsuit challenging DAPA and expanded DACA, it is feasible that the injunction halting the government from implementing the initiatives could be lifted in June 2016. The Supreme Court has said it is well within the executive’s power to decide how and when to use its enforcement resources. In fact, every Administration since 1956 has used its discretion to grant temporary immigration relief to one or more groups in need of assistance.

With respect to modernizing the visa process, there have been fits and starts towards this goal. In September 2015, in conjunction with issuing the October visa bulletin, the immigration agencies announced a promising development related to the application process for lawful permanent resident status. But this step forward was quickly followed by a step back when the October Visa bulletin was reissued later in the month—this revised bulletin meant that many individuals who thought they were going to be applying for status in October would remain in the long line. This, created widespread frustration and was seen as an “abrupt pullback of this modest step towards visa modernization.”

The PEP program is a highly-controversial replacement of the now defunct Secure Communities Program. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began rolling out the program last summer, working to reenlist local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. But the very same concerns that caused local communities to opt out of Secure Communities—including most importantly, shattered trust between immigrant and other community members who fear that interactions with the police could expose their loved ones and neighbors to deportations—are present. Yet, there is evidence that detainer use is down, and unverified deportation numbers for Fiscal Year 2015 suggest that far fewer people were deported this year and that ICE may be focusing its resources on its narrower set of priorities. Much about the federal government’s immigration enforcement activities still remain to be seen.

Unfortunately, the slow pace of progress on the executive actions announced last year, coupled with the suspension of the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives, has real-life consequences for millions of immigrants who live and work in this country. The Administration can and should continue to push forward in the areas where its authority is unchallenged: better prioritizing enforcement and modernizing the visa process. It must aggressively defend expanded DACA and DAPA in the courts, in hopes of being able to begin implementation of these initiatives before the President leaves office. And, the Administration should double down on assessing consider what additional administrative reforms could be taken in this final year.

However, even if each of the President’s executive actions were well-implemented, the need for legislative reform still persists. Only Congress can upgrade our immigration system completely and bring it in the line with the social and economic needs of the nation.

Photo by Michael Fleshman.

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