The arrival of the new presidential administration has caused uncertainty for immigrants living in this country and proposed changes to US immigration law. It has also added ambiguity to the legal status of the Dreamers, 750,000 immigrants who received work permits and temporary residency under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which commenced in 2012.
Florida is home to many Cuban-Americans. Many members of Florida's Cuban community were no doubt dismayed by a recent shift in U.S. immigration policy. For 22 years, U.S. policy allowed Cuban immigrants who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become legal residents, even though they arrived without visas. This month, President Obama announced that the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy was terminated, effective immediately.
Learning that a relative has been taken into detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can be alarming. When the family is unable to find out where their loved one is being held, their alarm can turn into desperation and fear. With the incoming administration promising little mercy in the enforcement of U.S. immigration law, many Florida families may find themselves in this harrowing situation.
Many undocumented immigrants in Florida live in fear that a brush with the law may lead to deportation. Unfortunately, their fear is justified. For those with prior convictions, even a minor offense like a traffic violation can lead to incarceration in a detention center and the initiation of deportation proceedings.
For many immigrants living in Florida, the path to U.S. citizenship or permanent residency begins with a visa application. As we discussed in an earlier post, there are many reasons an application for a U.S. visa could be denied. These include health reasons, conviction of certain crimes or a perceived threat to national security. Similarly, an application for legal permanent resident status -- a green card -- can be denied for any number of reasons.
Many immigrants to the United States, including many in the Miami area, came here as children or infants. Some were brought by their parents, and some were adopted from overseas by U.S. couples. These children have attended American schools, made friends in America, grown up in America and started careers here. Many of them have no memory at all of their original homelands. Any some of them may be unaware that they are not U.S. citizens.
In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order creating a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under DACA, people who were brought to the U.S. as children and who are undocumented can seek deferred action protecting them from deportation. Those who qualify for DACA can also seek work authorization. DACA does not, however, confer legal status.
By the time this post is published election day will have come and gone. It was an election in which illegal immigration was a major issue, and the issue is unlikely to go away now that the votes are in. But, a recent study debunks one widely believed falsehood behind much of the campaign rhetoric -- the myth that illegal immigrants are taking jobs in the U.S. that would otherwise go to American citizens.
For many immigrants in Florida, there may be no greater fear than that of being deported. Deportation can mean separation from family and an involuntary return to a war- or crime-torn homeland. It means the end of a dream of building a new life in the United States.