An Interview with Michelle Waslin: Pending Telebriefing and Recent Immigration Changes and Implications

Jun 21, 2012 by

Michele Waslin, Ph.D. is Senior Policy Analyst of the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council. In this interview, she respond to questions about recent changes and implications of those changes.

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) Could you first please tell us a little about yourself, your education, and experience.

I am Michele Waslin, Senior Policy Analyst at the Immigration Policy Center.

2) Please, could you tell us a bit about this upcoming tele-briefing event that is going to occur on Thursday and who will be participating?

The telebriefing is to provide details and analysis of the President’s recent announcement about deferred action for certain eligible people who arrived in the U.S. at a young age and have been living here for at least 5 years, have not committed any serious crimes, are in high school, graduated from high school, have a GED or were honorably discharged from the military and are under age 31.

For more information, see:

3) First, an opinion from you please—-this recent President Obama announcement is quite suspiciously close to the pending election. Could this be a political move, or is Obama trying to do , what he says is ” the right thing “?

There has been growing consensus for a long time that something needs to be done for these young people who arrived in the US at a young age. There has been bipartisan legislation that has passed both houses of Congress but has failed to become law. The DREAM students have been organizing for years; there has been a great deal of energy and attention devoted to this group of students; many organizations representing vastly different sectors have favored the DREAM Act; students have been “coming out” as undocumented — all of this advocacy has led to the President making this announcement. Of course, this is only a first step and Congress really must pass a permanent solution.

4) “Deferred action”- in your mind, what exactly does this mean ?

Deferred action means that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has determined that an individual is a low priority for immigration enforcement and has chosen to exercise its discretion and not deport the individual. Deferred action is a temporary relief from deportation. Deferred action is NOT amnesty or immunity. It does NOT provide a path to a green card or citizenship.

5) Now, I am not an attorney, so bear with me….what exactly does prosecutorial discretion mean?

“Prosecutorial discretion” is the authority of an agency or officer to decide what charges to bring and how to pursue each case. A law-enforcement officer who declines to pursue a case against a person has favorably exercised prosecutorial discretion. The authority to exercise discretion in deciding when to prosecute and when not to prosecute based on a priority system has long been recognized as a critical part of U.S. law. The concept of prosecutorial discretion applies in civil, administrative, and criminal contexts. The Supreme Court has made it clear that “an agency’s decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agency’s absolute discretion.” Heckler v. Chaney 470 U.S. 821, 831 (1985).

6) Does the President, in your opinion, have the legal authority to do this? Or like Obamacare- do you see this going all the way to the Supreme Court?

Yes, dozens of law professors and other experts have weighed in and found that the President absolutely has the authority to do this. See this memo for more details:

7) I realize you are not a historian, but how do other countries- say England, deal with a similar problem- of parents entering the country illegally, and then having children and raising them in another country?

I cannot speak to this.

8) Children who were not born in the U.S., but were brought to the U.S., at say age 3- what is their legal standing right now—Can they vote, can they join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, can they run for political office ?

It depends. Some children arrive in the U.S. legally and others do not have lawful status. Those who do not have lawful status cannot vote, they cannot join the military, they cannot run for political office, they cannot work lawfully, they cannot obtain the vast majority of public benefits. Children are eligible for K-12 education, regardless of legal status. They cannot obtain driver’s licenses in most states. They cannot get student loans or qualify for in-state tuition in most states. In some states they’re barred from college.

9) Let’s pick a city in mid America- say Lincoln, Nebraska. A 16 year old is stopped for speeding, running a red light, failing to use their directional signals- whatever. If convicted- could this person be deported back to Canada, or Mexico or wherever their parents came from?

It depends on the status of the 16 year old. Many are here lawfully and cannot be deported for a traffic violation alone. A person who is unlawfully present in the U.S. can be deported to his/her home country because they don’t have legal status. In many cases, they become known to the immigration agents through something like a traffic stop and local police sharing that information with immigration authorities.

10) I have heard of marriages that take place in order to procure citizenship. If someone is here illegally and marries an American citizen, do they automatically receive all the benefits of American citizenship?

No. If a U.S. citizen marries and undocumented immigrant, the US citizen can petition for a green card for his/her spouse. If the immigrant gets the green card, he/she can apply for US citizenship after 3 years. There is no such thing as automatic citizenship.

11) In the minds of many- maybe even George Bush- prosecutorial discretion may mean ” do not enforce laws that are difficult to enforce ..or time consuming to enforce ” or words to that effect. Am I off on this?

All law enforcement has and has always had the ability to exercise discretion. This is nothing new.

Police, prosecutors, and others exercise discretion every single day (like when you get a warning for speeding rather than a ticket).

It is not about failing to enforce laws that are difficult or time consuming. It is about efficiently and effectively using limited resources. There are approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. It makes sense to focus limited resources on deporting serious criminals, terrorists, and others who fit into the government’s priorities.

12) In terms of education- if a child has been brought to America by their parents, 18 years ago, and they have received an education from kindergarten through high school- do they have any responsibility to the United States of America in terms of reimbursing the country for their education–or have they been entitled to this education simply due to the fact that they are physically IN the United States?

In Plyler v Doe, the US Supreme Court ruled that undocumented children residing in the US cannot be denied K-12 education on the basis of their immigration status. The Court rejected the argument that the cost of educating these children justified denying them education. Justice Brennan wrote that denying them education: “imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status.

The stigma of illiteracy will mark them for the rest of their lives. By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.”

All children are expensive. The US makes a large investment in education, health care, and other benefits for all children. If you did a balance sheet for any child, the expenses would be much more than revenues. It is assumed that when children grow up they will work, pay taxes, be consumers, and otherwise contribute to the US economy. Foreign born children are no different. The benefit of allowing them to obtain legal status and work in the US legally is that they will be able to get good educations, get good jobs, contribute more in taxes, consume more, and otherwise increase their contributions.

Michele Waslin, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst
Immigration Policy Center
American Immigration Council

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