A loophole in immigration law could allow thousands of illegal immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship, according to government data obtained by The Daily Caller.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is former President Barack Obama’s amnesty for illegal immigrants who arrived as minors, does not confer legal status upon illegal immigrants. Instead, it is a form of prosecutorial discretion that protects beneficiaries from deportation.
A 2012 administration court decision, however, allows DACA recipients to leave the country and return through a process called advance parole, and receive lawful permanent status (a green card) if they are a direct relative of an American citizen. A lawful permanent resident may become a citizen after five years.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) obtained figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that show that from fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year 2016 an estimated 31,781 DACA beneficiaries were approved for advance parole. USCIS did not give the full figures for fiscal year 2016, and the amount for that year had to extrapolated from the October 2015 figure.
Advance parole is permission from federal authorities for immigrants to leave the country and then legally re-enter. An immigrant may get advanced parole to travel for humanitarian purposes (attending a funeral, getting medical treatment etc), educational purposes (study abroad programs, research etc), or employment purposes (work training, interview, etc).
DACA recipients, referred to as Dreamers by activists, need advance parole to leave the country. If they leave without it and re-enter, they will lose their status and could be deported. Colleges around the country advertise study abroad programs to Dreamers and help them through the process of getting advance parole.
Once an illegal immigrant returns to the country with advance parole, they are considered to have lawfully entered the country, allowing them to adjust their immigration status. A barrier to obtaining lawful permanent resident status is not having continuous legal status in the U.S. However, through a direct relation with an American citizen (spouse, child, or parent), one can waive these barriers and get legal status, according to an explanation from the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
It is unknown exactly how many DACA recipients have an immediate American citizen relative. The federal government has also not released updated data on how many DACA beneficiaries have gotten approved for advance parole, and IRLI obtained them only after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.
The amnesty program continues to process DACA applications and renewals. Nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants have benefited from the program in President Donald Trump’s first few months in office. A total of nearly 788,000 illegal immigrants are DACA beneficiaries. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said in a House hearing last week that Congress has to “solve this problem.”