Politics

GOP Senators Challenge Obama-Era Amnesty Loophole

Practice allows DACA recipients to leave the country, then return and apply for green cards

A pair of Republican senators have demanded information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials about a back-door amnesty loophole that has allowed thousands of immigrants to get green cards.

Critics contend the administration of former President Barack Obama abused a system known as “advance parole” that gave recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) the ability to leave the United States and return legally. Once back on U.S. soil, DACA recipients then were free to apply for green cards if they had a qualifying sponsor.

“In short, advanced parole effectively eliminates a DACA recipient’s unlawful status and creates an otherwise unavailable pathway to citizenship,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote in their letter to Acting USCIS Director James McCament.

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Grassley and Lee asked for a response by September 21 to a number of questions, including how many DACA recipients have been granted advance parole, have traveled abroad on that status, and have applied to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident. The senators also demanded an explanation of the basis for granting green cards.

A USCIS spokesman did not immediately respond to questions from LifeZette.

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Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Obama administration abused advance parole, which was intended for people who had pending applications for adjustment of status that likely were to be granted and had an emergency reason for traveling back home. An example would include a temporary guest worker with a pending green card application who wanted to visit a sick relative or had a business issue to attend to.

But Vaughan said thousands of DACA recipients have been able to use advance parole to get on a path to citizenship that the program never was supposed to provide. For instance, a DACA recipient who is marrying an American citizen could use advance parole to leave the United States and be admitted legally back into the country. After that, the American spouse could sponsor the DACA resident for a green card and, eventually, for citizenship.

“It’s an abuse of advance parole … They should never have been approving all of these issuances of advance parole.”

“This is a proverbial path to citizenship for people with DACA if they know how to use it,” she said. “It’s an abuse of advance parole … They should never have been approving all of these issuances of advance parole.”

It is unclear how many DACA recipients have taken advantage of the loophole. But USCIS informed Grassley last year that as of Dec. 31, 2015, 22,340 DACA recipients — about 3 percent of the illegal immigrants who had obtained DACA status at that time — received advance parole. Of that group, 5,068 subsequently applied for adjustment of status, and 2,994 of them had gotten green cards.

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León Rodriguez, then the agency’s director, wrote to Grassley that some of those who obtained green cards through advance parole may have qualified through other means.

California State University, Long Beach, since 2015 has sponsored spring break trips for students with DACA status to visit relatives outside the United States. Doing so still carries risk since the customs officer does not have to let them back in the country or mark them as “admitted,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA.

“They’re still taking a chance,” he said.

Chmielenski said the Obama administration appears to have instructed customs officers to waive DACA recipients on advance parole back into the country. He said it contradicts promises of the Obama administration that DACA was not a path to citizenship.

“It’s a back-door amnesty, and it’s not what we were sold on DACA,” he said.

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