Administration Moves Ahead on Three More Little Amnesties

The Obama administration has moved ahead on three more little amnesties in the last few weeks, all largely under the radar and all linked with the concept of victimhood.

The most recent and probably the least worrisome came Tuesday, when the Department of Homeland Security re-opened the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program to allow new applications from Somalis. It also rolled over the program for another 18 months for the handful already covered by its provisions, i.e., temporary legal status and the right to work in the United States. This was done by an administrative order and went into effect immediately. (More on that later.)

More troublesome for three reasons, but also perhaps headed for defeat in the House of Representatives, was the administration-supported Senate passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S 1925). The act expands the number of U visas for victims of domestic violence, rape, and other crimes and their non-victim relatives.

While I am in favor of renewing this legislation generally, the immigration provisions give me pause for these reasons:

  1. It blurs the nonimmigrant/immigrant distinction because it gives the victims (and their relatives) a nonimmigrant visa that can be turned into a green card four years later, which is an unfortunate precedent.

  2. It expands the current ceiling of 10,000 a year to 15,000 (regrettable enough) by reviving potential visas unused in the past. Ceilings should be limits on the number of visas to be issued and if visa slots are not used they should be discarded.

  3. It is yet another attempt to use the plight of a population of victims (like people in Somalia) to further erode immigration controls.

Perhaps the most troublesome of the three efforts was another TPS expansion for anyone from Syria, legally or illegally, who was living in the United States as of March 31. While I think we should suspend our infrequent deportations to Syria (and Somalia, too) until the violence in those countries diminishes, there is no need to legalize the presence of nationals from either country through acts labeled temporary, but likely to be renewed year after year as have all other TPS cases.

I worry about the Syrian decision for two reasons: First, it is another one of those amnesty bits-and-pieces that this administration likes so much. Second, it may, non-deliberately, have the same impact on the Assad regime (led by a very young man) as our Cuban refugee policies had on the Castro regime (once led by another young man) so many years ago. If you make it too easy for dissenters to leave, they do so, and the needed revolution does not take place. Admittedly a hard-hearted point of view.

The Syrian decision, though exactly parallel to the Somali one, is likely to lead to a much bigger impact on the American population, as there are just not that many Somali visitors in the United States.

The 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 26, shows nonimmigrant admissions from the two nations in 2010 as:

  • Syria: 8,904
  • Somalia: 279

That's a ratio of about 30 Syrians to one Somali.

Further, in Tuesday's Federal Register USCIS estimated that there are only about 250 Somalis covered in the existing Somali TPS program and that they expected fewer than 1,000 to take advantage of its re-opening, which sounds plausible.

The agency estimates that 2,500 to 3,000 Syrians will be eligible for TPS.

That sounds a bit low.

One of the oddities of both the Syrian and the Somali TPS announcements was their timing. Typically, Temporary Protected Status is announced to start right after a recent disaster (like the earthquakes in El Salvador so many years ago), the idea being that people caught in this country on that date should be granted the TPS status and that newcomers should not get that benefit. In effect, the eligible population is frozen in place by the timing of the announcement and cannot legitimately grow in the future.

For example, the earthquakes in El Salvador came on January 13 and February 13 and 17, 2001. On March 9, 2001, the Attorney General declared that people from that nation who had been in the United States since February 13, 2011, were eligible for the benefit.

That's sensible timing for what is clearly not a sensible program, but USCIS has apparently abandoned even that useful precedent, probably in an effort to widen eligibility in the more recent TPS operations.

The March 31 eligibility for the Syrian TPS and the May 1 eligibility for the Somalis, were announced in the Federal Register editions for those very days. Thus, even assuming no leak of official information, interested readers of the Federal Register outside the nation could find out that they had a chance to enter the United States later that day, legally or illegally, and become eligible for the program.

That would not do one much good if one were in Somalia or in Syria, but if you were in nearby Canada or Mexico, you could act on that information and beat the deadline, because the deadline was announced in advance.

I checked the exact timing of the publication of Wednesday's Federal Register and found at 9:11 a.m., May 2, that it had been placed online four hours earlier, or at 5:11 a.m. eastern time (2:11 a.m. west coast time). So if I were an alert Somali either legally or illegally in Canada, and was paying attention to the Federal Register at that hour of the morning on May 1 — it is sleep-inducing — I would have had 22 hours to cross the border legally or illegally so that I could reap the TPS benefits.

Sleepless Syrians in western Canada on March 31 not only had that potential advantage, I am told they were alerted to the upcoming Syrian TPS decision by a DHS announcement.

So the previous retroactive element of TPS has been modified by USCIS. One wonders if they know, or care, about the possible results of their timing.

Three little amnesties, two announced and one still facing legislative hurdles. How many more are in the offing?