New DHS immigration directive has impact on Jewish community


A new directive of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on June 15th by President Barack Obama, was hailed as beneficial to members of the Jewish community by Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization.

“This program has a very significant impact on the Jewish community,” said David Grunblatt, Chair of Agudath Israel’s Legal Services Network Immigration Committee and a partner at Proskauer Rose. “There are many more families in the United States than people are aware of who came to the United States in a legal status, but have since fallen out of status, who brought young children with them, who have attended Yeshivas and other schools, only to discover when they became teenagers that they could not get drivers’ licenses, apply for certain government benefits, and travel outside of the United States because they were out of status. This program will allow these folks who entered as children, to apply for permission to work and for social security numbers.”

Under this directive, explained Eva Hefter, Esq., a Cedarhurst based Immigration and Visa lawyer, “certain individuals who were brought to the United States as children and have been living here illegally since they arrived, may be eligible for work authorization. Effectively, since these individuals do not present a risk to national security, the President has directed the Department of Homeland Security to process them for significant benefits that will allow them to receive permission to work in the U.S., which may lead to receiving a social security card, a driver’s license, and educational benefits.”

To qualify for this deferral of deportation for a period of two years, to be decided on a case-by-case basis, applicants, said Hefter, have to have come to the U.S. under age 16 and currently be under age 30. They have to be in the U.S. and to have been living in the U.S. for the last five years. In addition, they have to be in school, or been graduated from high school, or honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or the Armed Forces of the U.S. and not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or threaten national security or public safely.

“Our community has seen many Jews come to the United States temporarily as visitors, students, temporary workers or through some other means,” emphasized Hefter. “When parents bring their children to visit, and then remain in the U.S. after their permission to stay has expired, both the parent and the child fall into the category of an illegal immigrant. If the parent is an illegal overstay, the child that was brought to the U.S., in most cases, also becomes an illegal alien. It is unfair for children who have been brought to the U.S. as minors to be punished for the acts of their parents. Since the child had no control over the fact that he was brought to this country, and that he subsequently became illegal, he should not be penalized or deprived of benefits. “

The “deferred action” referred to in the decision, explained Grunblatt, involves “deferring taking any negative action against the person. They might not deport (the person) but they have the power and authority to do it.” Hefter explained further that those eligible will not be deported and deportation will not be done for two years with the possibility of renewal. The initial eligibility provides them with authority to work and possibly acquiring a social security card, and a driver’s license. They will not be allowed to vote, said Hefter, “Only a citizen of the United States may vote. These individuals are neither being granted permanent residence nor citizenship at this time. “ She noted that this directive will apply to between 800,000 and 1.2 million persons.

“The ages chosen were designed to parallel the ‘Dream Act’ which was targeted to those who came to the United States illegally, but innocently, because they were brought by their parents and are fully integrated into the American system because they grew up and went to elementary school and high school here.,” said Grunblatt. The DREAM Act, an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, was a legislative proposal introduced by senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2001 to allow permanent residency for those who entered the country illegally as minors, went to school and were here for at least five years and are of good moral standing.

“Even though it is only for a two-year period, and this is only a first step, it will put a lot of pressure on Congress to do something to find a long term solution for these individuals,” Grunblatt continued. “Also, it creates facts on the ground, in the sense that it would be very difficult for a subsequent President to take the harsh action of cancelling the deferred action or failing to renew it, given that this is basically a sympathetic group. Note that we are now within a 60-day period during which they will formulate the process and procedure for implementing this program.” In addition, he said, “it does not change anything with regard to eligibility for government benefits.”

“I got so many calls over the years,” Grunblatt pointed out. “I regret that I didn’t keep records of them.” One representative case, he recalled, was of a husband and iwfe who separated and the wife was left here with the children. He noted that it will help them, enabling them to get social security numbers and register for college. He said that the Jews come from al over, Israel, France, Russia and are comfortable in the New York Jewish community. “Hundreds if not thousands will be impacted by this,” he said. “It’s not even a status,” he stressed. “They will be allowed to stay, but it’s not amnesty, although it may put pressure on Congress to do something about it.”

The policy is both pragmatic and proper,” said Grunblatt. “These foreign-born individuals were brought to this country as youngsters, were educated here, have contributed their talents here and continue to live here. They should not live in the shadow of being expelled from the U.S. to a country where they have never lived and might not even speak the language.”

“The policy addresses an urgent and unfortunate situation -- one that has affected many members of the Jewish Community that have sought our help but for whom little could be done,” added Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director. “And, given our community’s history, we must be particularly sensitive that our immigration policies embody compassion and common sense. This is a positive step in that direction.”

Eva Hefter can be reached at 516 374-3737.