DHS Explores Ways to Transform Immigration System Without Congress

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/13/2017, 7:41 a.m.
Even as the Trump administration is asking Congress to approve a tough overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, the Department ...
Donald Trump

By Tal Kopan, CNN

(CNN) -- Even as the Trump administration is asking Congress to approve a tough overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, the Department of Homeland Security is also quietly exploring ways it could transform the US immigration system on its own.

The department has been examining a range of subtle modifications to immigration policies that could have major consequences, including limiting protections for unaccompanied minors who come to the US illegally, expanding the use of speedy deportation proceedings, and tightening visa programs in ways that could limit legal immigration to the US, according to multiple sources familiar with the plans.

None of the policies being explored are finalized, according to the sources, and are in various stages of development. Any of them could change or fall by the wayside. Some of them are also included at least in part in the wish list of immigration priorities that President Donald Trump sent to Congress this week, and it's unclear whether the administration will wait to see the results of negotiations over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Donald Trump has chosen to end.

Still, the proposals under consideration illustrate the extent to which the administration could attempt to dramatically change immigration in the US through unilateral executive action.

"Do you think Obama did a lot? That's my answer," said one former DHS official when asked how transformative the change could be. "They could do quite a bit."

DACA itself was an example of how former President Barack Obama, frustrated with congressional inaction, sought to use executive authority to take action on immigration, putting in place the program to protect young undocumented immigrations brought to the US as children from deportation in 2012.

But the administration is now exploring rolling back more Obama-era policies, and changing even older systems.

DHS did not respond to a request for comment about the policies being explored or its process.

Targeting protections for unaccompanied minors

One effort underway is exploring what can be done about unaccompanied children (UACs), a category of undocumented immigrants who are caught illegally crossing the border into the US, are under age 18, and are not accompanied or met by a parent or guardian in the US. Those UACs, by law and legal settlement, are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services for settling in the US, given protections from expedited removal proceedings and given special opportunities to pursue asylum cases in the US.

DHS and the Department of Justice have been exploring options to tighten the protections for UACs, including no longer considering them UACs if they're reunited with parents or guardians in the US by HHS or once they turn 18.

In a previously unreported memo, obtained by CNN, the general counsel of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which manages the nation's immigration courts, wrote in a legal opinion that the administration would be able to decide a UAC was no longer eligible for protections -- a sea change in the way the 2008 law granting those protections has been interpreted.