Due to the continued failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the congressional level, President Obama announced two executive actions on immigration in June 2012 and November 2014.
On the heels of a civil disobedience campaign led by undocumented youth, in June 2012 President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to provide temporary legal status and work permits for an estimated 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who meet the criteria of the DREAM Act [see: The Federal Dream Act Fails, 2010]. The policy prohibits the Department of Homeland Security from deporting undocumented immigrants who are under 30 years old; entered the U.S. before age 16; are without criminal records; and are enrolled in school, high school graduates, or military veterans. Under the policy, undocumented youth can obtain work permits for a two-year period.
In November 2014, President Obama announced a second executive order on immigration geared toward expanding the DACA eligible population, creating a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), and expanding border security. The executive action also replaced the Secure Communities program [see: Deportations Skyrocket Under Obama, 2008] with Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which revised removal priorities to deport serious criminals.
Critics have questioned Obama’s authority to take these actions, some comparing the programs to amnesty, although executive action on immigration has been taken by every president since Dwight Eisenhower. Nonetheless, a temporary federal court injunction questioning the constitutionality of the 2014 action has halted its implementation.
The 2012 and 2014 executive action measures have the combined potential to reach up to forty-eight percent of the estimated 11.2 million undocumented persons, temporarily shielding them from deportation. Some immigration reform advocates, however, question the safety of individuals coming out of the shadows to obtain temporary relief.