Taking Action on Immigration

President Obama is taking new steps to fix America’s broken immigration system.


Strengthening Enforcement

“That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”

— President Obama, November 20, 2014

Deporting Felons, Not Families

By setting priorities and focusing its enforcement resources, the Obama administration has already increased the removal of criminals by more than 80 percent. The President’s immigration accountability actions build on that strong record by:

  • Focusing on the removal of national security, border security, and public safety threats. To better focus on the priorities that matter, Secretary Johnson is issuing a new DHS-wide memorandum that makes clear that the government’s enforcement activity should be focused on national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers. DHS will direct all of its enforcement resources at pursuing these highest priorities for removal.
  • Implementing a new Priority Enforcement Program. Effectively identifying and removing criminals in state and local jails is a critical goal but it must be done in a way that sustains the community’s trust. To address concerns from Governors, Mayors, law enforcement and community leaders which have undermined cooperation with DHS, Secretary Johnson is replacing the existing Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to remove those convicted of criminal offenses. DHS will continue to rely on biometric data to verify individuals who are enforcement priorities, and they will also work with DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons to identify and remove federal criminals serving time as soon as possible.
  • Accountability — Criminal Background Checks and Taxes: The President is also acting to hold accountable those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for more than five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. By registering and passing criminal and national security background checks, millions of undocumented immigrants will start paying their fair share of taxes and temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for three years at a time. DHS is also expanding the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy so that individuals who were brought to this country as children (“DREAMers”) can apply if they entered before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today. Going forward, DACA relief will also be granted for three years.


Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers

“It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers…most businesses want to do the right thing… So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status. And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.”

— President Obama, January 29, 2013

Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable. At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are
here legally.

The President's Proposal

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Mandatory, phased-in electronic employment verification.

The President’s proposal provides tools for employers to ensure a legal workforce by using federal government databases to verify that the people they hire are eligible to work in the United States. Penalties for hiring undocumented workers are significantly increased, and new penalties are established for committing fraud and identity theft. The new mandatory program ensures the privacy and confidentiality of all workers’ personal information and includes important procedural protections. Mandatory electronic employment verification would be phased in over five years with exemptions for certain small businesses.

Combat fraud and identity theft.

The proposal also mandates a fraud‐resistant, tamper‐resistant Social Security card and requires workers to use fraud‐and tamper‐resistant documents to prove authorization to work in the United States. The proposal also seeks to establish a voluntary pilot program to evaluate new methods to authenticate identity and combat identity theft.

Protections for All Workers

Protections for all workers.

The President’s proposal protects workers against retaliation for exercising their labor rights. It increases the penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers to skirt the workplace standards that protect all workers. And it creates a “labor law enforcement fund” to help ensure that industries that employ significant numbers of immigrant workers comply with labor laws.


Progress Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers


Increasing monitoring and accountability of employers.

Since January 2009, ICE has audited more than 8,900 employers suspected of hiring illegal labor, debarred 8,590 companies and individuals, and imposed more than $100.3 million in financial sanctions—more than the total amount of audits and debarments than during the entire previous administration.

Expanding E-Verify.

Employer enrollment in E-Verify, which allows employers to verify electronically that an employee is eligible to work in the U.S., has more than doubled since January 2009, with more than 561,000 participating companies representing more than 1.7 million hiring sites. More than 28 million queries were processed in FY 2014.


Applying Smarter Enforcement Measures

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Deporting criminals.

The President proposal expands smart enforcement efforts that target convicted criminals in federal or state correctional facilities, allowing us to remove them from the United States at the end of their sentences without re-entering our communities. At the same time, it protects those with a credible fear of returning to their home countries.

Streamline removal of nonimmigrant national security and public safety threats.

The President’s proposal creates a streamlined administrative removal process for people who overstay their visas and have been determined to be threats to national security and
public safety.

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Improve our nation’s immigration courts.

The President’s proposal invests in our immigration courts so judges can more efficiently process current and future cases. By increasing the number of immigration judges and their staff, investing in training for court personnel, and improving access to legal information for immigrants, these reforms will improve court efficiency. It also allows DHS to better focus its detention resources on public safety and national security threats by expanding alternatives to detention and reducing overall detention costs. It also provides greater protections for those least able to represent themselves.

Prioritizing convicted criminals and violent offenders for deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set clear enforcement priorities so that individuals who are a threat to our public safety and national security, such as convicted criminals, are the highest enforcement priority. These efforts are producing real results.

  • In FY 2013, ICE conducted 315,943 removals, of which 86,923 were conducted in the interior and involved individuals with a previous criminal conviction. Another 177,960 were conducted along our borders and involved individuals with a criminal conviction.

  • DHS has also issued guidance to law enforcement personnel and attorneys regarding their authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion where appropriate to ensure greater consistency in the treatment of low-priority cases.

  • In addition, DHS worked to better target their resources by reviewing, on a case-by-case basis, deportation cases pending before the immigration courts in order to focus on the highest enforcement priorities by clearing out the backlog of low-priority cases.

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Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

President Barack Obama
January 21, 2013