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New MPI Report Proposes Targeted Administrative Actions to Advance Goals of the U.S. Immigration System
Press Release
Monday, March 14, 2011

New MPI Report Proposes Targeted Administrative Actions to Advance Goals of the U.S. Immigration System

WASHINGTON — While sweeping reform to fix a U.S. immigration system widely acknowledged as broken has taken a backseat politically, opportunities exist within the executive branch to improve the ways in which the nation’s existing immigration laws and policies are administered.

A new report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Executive Action on Immigration: Six Ways to Make the System Work Better, offers six proposals that the Obama administration could implement to improve the functioning and advance the core goals of the nation’s immigration system. They include establishing uniform enforcement priorities and defining what constitutes effective border control, strengthening immigrant integration policy creation and implementation, allowing applicants for immigrant visas to file in the United States and making use of prosecutorial discretion in removal proceeding filings.

None of the actions require new legislation and they all could be implemented by the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) and the White House.

The report recommends:

  • The administration and DHS define what constitutes effective border control, promoting a more informed and nuanced public debate about the effectiveness of border enforcement, especially along the Southwest land border. As part of this, DHS agencies should provide more border enforcement metrics to the public.
  • DHS, in consultation with DOJ, establish uniform enforcement priorities, based on its existing guidance for exercising prosecutorial discretion, and implement them across its immigration agencies, programs and processes.
  • Creation of a White House Office on Immigrant Integration led by a Special Assistant to the President, convening a Cabinet-level interagency task force and working group of state and local officials. The office would also track integration outcomes to inform immigration policymaking and to analyze the needs associated with future immigration policy proposals.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicate waivers to grounds of inadmissibility based on “unlawful presence” before visa beneficiaries must leave the country to apply for a family-based immigrant visa. Expanded use of the Section 245(i) process would provide certainty for eligible family immigrants, encouraging fuller use of established legal admissions opportunities and processing.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys screen all Notices to Appear (NTAs) for removal proceedings prior to their filing in immigration court to ensure NTAs adhere to DHS’s prosecutorial discretion guidelines and clogged immigration courts are not further burdened with lower-priority cases.
  • DHS and DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review — which oversees the immigration court system — issue guidance governing the circumstances in which due process requires the government to appoint counsel in removal proceedings. DOJ should establish a pilot program to test the benefits of appointed counsel in such cases.

“These actions would create more effective and efficient immigration enforcement policies and make it possible for persons eligible for family-based visas to secure them,” said report co-author Donald M. Kerwin, Vice President for Programs at MPI. “The establishment of clear criteria for assessing the effectiveness of border enforcement would strengthen public confidence in border control and opportunities for future legislative proposals.”

While enforcement and immigrant admission policies have garnered a significant amount of public and policymaker attention, the report notes that issues related to immigrant integration — the impacts and prospects for successful integration of immigrants and their children into local communities and economies — have received far less discussion. Yet issues of immigrant integration are precisely the medium through which most Americans experience the impact of immigration policies in their day-to-day lives.

“Federal integration programs are currently scattered throughout the government and beg for a more coordinated effort and greater visibility,” said Margie McHugh, Co-Director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration and a report co-author. “As state, local and community programs face increasing budget pressure and cuts, now is the time to create a coordinated, long-term effort to promote the successful integration of the historically high U.S. foreign-born population.”

The report, also co-authored by MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, is based on a roundtable that MPI convened in early 2010 with government officials, policy experts, practitioners and immigrant-service providers on ways to improve the administration of current immigration laws.

The report is available here.


The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.