The Barack Obama administration has paused efforts to protect undocumented immigrants from being deported after facing legal setbacks, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.
“It’s kind of come to a screeching halt,’’ said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which helps immigrants with legal and other issues, said, according to the Post, adding that the Obama administration “is being very cautious. ... They feel that injunction was very clear, that they’re not able to do anything.” In February, a federal judge had blocked the new immigration reform programs planned by the government.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended its plan to hire up to 3,100 new employees, most of whom were supposed to be accommodated in the 11-story building that the government has leased for $7.8 million a year in Arlington County, Virginia. The designated building is now unused, the Post reported, citing DHS documents sent to Congress.
However, advocacy groups in the country feel that the administration will win at the court proceedings. “There is a sense of being undeterred, that we are going to continue planning,” Hincapie said, according to the Post, adding: “We need to make sure that the infrastructure is in place and ready to go.”
In and around Beltway, community groups are helping to train immigrants and volunteers -- a move that has garnered $8 million from a foundation led by billionaire George Soros. Several advocacy and community groups continue to train people to help immigrants determine whether they are eligible for the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and help them find key documents and fill out applications.
“The reality is you can’t turn on a switch in people’s lives and all of the sudden 5 million people pour into the gates of DHS and move into the application process,’’ said Ken Zimmerman, director of Soros' U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations.
As soon as Obama announced the plans for the immigrants in the country in November, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “immediately began efforts to implement those initiatives," Marsha Catron, a DHS spokeswoman, reportedly said. DHS' Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is central to managing the nation’s immigration system, processes over 6 million citizenship and other applications each year.
The plan also called for 1,000 employees to begin a DAPA in Crystal City. Besides, another 400 workers were needed for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to process applications received for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. However, both the plans were shelved after the February ruling.
DHS was “disappointed" with the ruling and the Citizenship and Immigration Services “immediately took steps to ensure the agency ceased its preparations,” Carton reportedly said.
Of the 280,000 square-foot building on Crystal Drive in Crystal City that had been leased to accommodate DAPA employees -- only the first floor is currently being used to train about 30 employees, at a time, to teach them various aspects of immigration law. The building came up fully furnished but needed about $26 million in start-up costs for workstation and desktop equipment, the Post reported, citing the documents. These costs were expected to be funded with fees collected from immigrants who had applied for other government programs.
Some federal contractors, who were scheduled to work in Crystal City, were also affected, the Post reported. Workers, who had received job offers, were either put on hold or had their employment canceled.
Despite the hold on most of the programs, CASA, a Maryland-based immigrant advocacy group, is continuing DAPA informational sessions in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware since the time Obama announced the plan for the immigration reform.
“Our job is to keep people motivated,” said George Escobar, CASA’s senior director of human services, according to the Post, adding that it is “highly likely” that DAPA will survive the court challenge. “We will continue to prepare for it.”