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What Lawyers Should Know About Pres. Obama's Immigration Plan

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last Thursday, President Obama outlined his plan for dealing with the problem of undocumented immigrants. It involves selective enforcement of immigration laws, focusing more on criminals and less on families and children.

With the implementation of new immigration regulations come new opportunities, both for undocumented immigrants and for attorneys. Here's what you should know about the immigration order.

It applies only to people who've been in the United States more than five years.

It's expected that Obama's executive order will take effect Jan. 1, 2015, so only undocumented immigrants who entered the United States on or before Jan. 1, 2010 would qualify.

Immigrants will have to register and go through a background check.

Part of the "coming out of the shadows" trope involves undocumented immigrants putting their names on paper and undergoing a background check. They'll also have to pay fees and back taxes, but hey, it's better than being deported.

This isn't a pathway to citizenship.

No one's sure when or if this stopgap measure will expire, but Obama was emphatic that it's only temporary. Unlike the amnesty of the 1980s, which was a legislative measure, Obama can't grant citizenship to anyone, so undocumented immigrants shouldn't expect their temporary status to lead anywhere.

We'll need more lawyers.

With more undocumented immigrants needing to fill out paperwork, there will be more of a need for lawyers. Earlier this year, California Attorney General Kamala Harris called on lawyers and law firms in California to devote pro bono hours to litigating his "deferred action" plan for immigrants under 30.

Immigration consequences are more important than ever.

It's best practices for trial judges to advise criminal defendants pleading guilty of the immigration consequences of their pleas, but unfortunately, many of them don't. And what's worse, some defense attorneys assume their clients are citizens -- and so do the clients, only to find out later that, whoops! They're not.

Obama's executive order won't apply to felons, but again, it's not quite clear yet what that means.

The plan will expand the use of U and T visas for crime victims.

U and T visas have been around for awhile; they're available to crime victims (U) or victims of trafficking, sex or otherwise (T) who cooperate with the government. Obama's order will expand the availability of these visas.

There are many more provisions of the new executive order, many of which are unknown. All we have to go on so far is Obama's speech and some press releases from the White House. Practitioners in immigration, or those who seek to do pro bono immigration work, will have a lot to do in the coming months.

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