With Kelly Out at DHS, What’s Next on Immigration?

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By Genevieve Douglas

Gen. John Kelly’s exit from the Department of Homeland Security likely doesn’t signal a change in the agency’s stated long-term strategy of tightening immigration enforcement, regardless of who the next secretary is, practitioners told Bloomberg BNA.

“I absolutely think the focus on enforcement will continue regardless of who takes over DHS,” Montserrat Miller, an immigration attorney with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1. At the top levels of the administration, they have set a tone of much more immigration enforcement, and the administration “will be pushing down policies” that look at employment visa programs “with a critical eye and a goal to restrict programs,” he said.

In the short-term, the shakeup will likely delay the administration’s immigration efforts, Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, told Bloomberg BNA July 31. “Everything this administration does on immigration is scattershot,” Nowrasteh said. “No matter the policy,” it will be difficult to implement “if there’s a revolving set of heads at DHS,” he said.

The agency doesn’t have a timeline for the naming of a nominee to become homeland security secretary, DHS spokesman David Lapan told Bloomberg BNA via email Aug. 1. In the interim, the department is being led by Acting Secretary Elaine Duke. “DHS, under her leadership, will continue to fully enforce existing immigration laws and policies,” Lapan said

Enforcement to Remain in Spotlight

Miller cited recent actions by the DHS as evidence that enforcement initiatives are moving forward despite the exit of Kelly on July 28 to serve as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

Not only should employers anticipate an increase in audits and investigations, she said, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced 18 new agreements July 31 that will deputize local law enforcement in Texas to act on immigration enforcement matters.

Miller also noted a shift in priorities for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since the release of the administration’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. The order calls for the agency to change focus from administering immigration benefits to rooting out fraud and abuse in employment visa programs and prioritizing jobs for American workers.

Impending Actions?

It seems like the DHS will likely “kick the can down the road” on a lot of immigration programs with impending deadlines, such as the deferred action for childhood arrivals program and temporary protected status programs for Hondurans and El Salvadorans, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1.

Whether to continue DACA will be a decision made by the White House, said Krikorian, whose organization supports lower immigration levels.

“DACA remains unaffected today but under review by the Administration,” Lapan said.

There is currently legislation in both the Senate and the House to make the program permanent. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the latest version of the Dream Act of 2017 to give young immigrants who grew up in the U.S. a path to citizenship. On the House side, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) introduced the American Hope Act of 2017, a bill that would achieve the same goals of permanent legal status for DACA recipients and others who arrived in the U.S. as children.

Passage of these bills would solve the uncertainty surrounding DACA but is unlikely to happen, Miller said.

“It’s going to take a strong personality in DHS to change” the current decisions to keep these programs going, and “an acting director is not going to be that person,” Krikorian said. “With Kelly leaving, it increases the chances they’ll just punt,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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