An internal memo prepared for the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it is possible to provide green cards or delay deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are now living and working in the United States without papers or permanent residence.
The recent memo to USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas, released in Washington late Thursday, said one group that could receive green cards are the almost 400,000 current holders of Temporary Protected Status who include Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.
The memo says young students who could qualify for green cards under pending legislation known as the DREAM Act could be granted deferred action, an immigration measure that delays deportation.
Another option for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries, the memo says, would be to ``move forward'' to 1996 -- or another date -- the registry provision of immigration law that makes eligible for green cards undocumented immigrants present in the United States since before Jan. 1, 1972.
The memo is the first formal indication that officials within the Obama administration are seriously discussing the possibility of helping certain categories of undocumented immigrants achieve permanent residence -- absent immigration reform.
In Miami, Haitian and Central American TPS holders and potential DREAM Act candidates, cheered the options listed in the memo for Mayorkas.
``I welcome this with all my heart,'' said Daniela Deteriere, 21, a Haitian TPS holder assisted in obtaining the status by Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. ``TPS is good to have but the future is still uncertain. With a green card you can plan long term.'' Central American TPS holders also were happy.
``This would be a dream come true, if it happens,'' said Alba Fonseca, a Honduran who has been in the United States for 20 years.
Fonseca and fellow TPS-holder Jacqueline Mairena of Nicaragua, said getting green cards would also save them money because with TPS -- generally renewable every 18 months -- they have to pay renewal fees all the time. Green cards generally last 10 years.
Gaby Pacheco of Ecuador, a former Miami Dade College student who recently walked with three other young immigrants to Washington to seek an end to deportations of undocumented students, said proposed deferred action for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries is welcome. But advancing the registry, she added, would be better because it would make youths like her eligible for green cards. She arrived in 1993.
Pacheco said she was happy the administration was taking into account the key petition from the youths who walked to the nation's capital from Miami.
``This is what we asked President Obama to do when we walked from Miami to Washington,'' said Pacheco. ``We asked that the President end the deportations of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries and grant them deferred action.'' Pacheco, Fonseca and Mairena were interviewed in the offices of Francisco Portillo, head of the Francisco Morazán Integrated Honduran Organization.
Besides listing possible options for TPS holders and DREAM Act candidates, the memo also lists other options for multiple categories of undocumented immigrants as well as legal workers, professionals and investors.
USCIS officials would not say what prompted the memo, but its title -- Administrative Alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform -- suggests that high level officials within the administration may be considering ways to legalize classes of undocumented immigrants in case Congress doesn't deal with formal legalization for the estimated 10.8 million immigrants without papers. USCIS said the memo merely reflects discussion.
``Internal draft memos do not and should not be equated with official action or policy of the Department,'' said USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley in an e-mailed statement.
``He added: ``Internal memorandums help us do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected.''
Several Republican senators have accused the administration of covertly preparing ``amnesty'' for large numbers of undocumented immigrants since it appears unlikely that Congress can pass immigration reform anytime soon in light of broad Republican rejection to legalization of all undocumented immigrants.
One of the senators who recently sent letters to President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary was Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa. He released the USCIS memo and sent a copy to El Nuevo Herald.
Cheryl Little, executive director of Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, which has assisted many Haitians to obtain TPS, said options listed in the USCIS memo outlines the best options without immigration reform.
``It's no secret that Congress has failed to fix our desperately dysfunctional immigration system,'' said Little. ``Kudos to USCIS for exploring, within existing law, how to improve the system for our nation's businesses and families.''