Despite their emphasis on a legislative solution, administration officials have taken small steps recently to provide relief to certain groups of immigrants. A directive by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month advised agents to keep enforcement actions from unnecessarily impacting parents and primary caregivers.
An internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services memo from 2010 showed that officials were contemplating broader actions, including deferring deportations and allowing work authorizations for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally — without any action by Congress.
The memo listed a number of "pros" arguing for that approach. "A bold administrative program would transform the political landscape by using administrative measures to sidestep the current state of congressional gridlock and inertia," it said.
However, it noted even more "cons."
"Opponents of the registration program will characterize it as 'amnesty'," and the Homeland Security secretary would "face criticism that she is abdicating her charge to enforce the immigration laws."
An administration official, who was not authorized to discuss the memo publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not directed by the White House and has no bearing on the current immigration debate.
That's not stopping immigrant advocates from gaming out scenarios the administration could pursue, such as granting legal status to targeted groups of immigrants, perhaps to people who have been in the country for a long time or whose children are U.S. citizens.
"It's very clear that from advocates' perspective, if legislation fails, we definitely will need to start pressuring the administration to act," said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
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