White House memo proposes immigration fix

Last week’s release of an internal memo regarding ways to help some temporary immigrants extend their stay in the United States shouldn’t raise hopes or concerns. But it’s good to see the Obama administration is looking at the possibilities and contingencies in advance of possible policy changes.

The internal memo sent to Alejandro Mayorkas, head of the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services, notes that the agency could extend permanent legal status to about 400,000 people who are here on Temporary Protected Status. These generally are people from Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador who came to this country seeking asylum.

The memo also offers that deportation could be delayed for students and other people whose status could change if Congress passes the DREAM Act. That legislation, which would help people who came to this country as children work toward permanent legal status or citizenship, has been pending for several years, and passage remains uncertain.

Another option the memo addresses is renewing some provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the original “amnesty” bill that enabled immigrants to seek legal status if they had been in this country continuously for several years.

USCIS officials pointed out the memo neither predicts nor recommends these or any other changes. It is a logistical list of steps the agency could take to deal with the estimated 11 million U.S. residents who don’t have legal residency. Indeed, it was an internal document; U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, an immigration opponent, made it public, alleging the administration is planning to take administrative steps to override congressional defeat of any immigration reform bill.

With a complicit Congress and a high level of confidence, it’s unlikely Obama is mapping out contingencies at this time. An analysis of what the agency can do, such as this memo, is most valuable before any legislation is considered, so that lawmakers have an idea of what is feasible and what might overburden an agency that already is plagued with inefficiency and excessive delays.

The options mentioned in the memo are preliminary, even temporary fixes to existing problems regarding people who most likely will qualify for permanent residency. What the agency needs most, however, is some way to make the process more efficient. It’s safe to assume that a majority of people living here without visas would qualify for them if they thought their efforts would prove fruitful.

Establishing more realistic quotas — or eliminating them altogether — and either streamlining the application process or devoting more resources to improving its performance are more urgently needed, so that fewer people will see the need to bypass the legal process and take their chances by living here illegally.

Regardless, Obama pledged during his campaign that immigration reform would be one of his greatest priorities. As he nears the second half of his term, it’s good to see that parts of the administration are at least preparing memos with regard to the problem and possible remedies.