WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department appears to be preparing for an increase in the number of immigrants living illegally in the country to apply for work permits after President Barack Obama announces his long-promised plans for executive actions on immigration reform later this year.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed to The Associated Press that it has published a draft contract proposal to buy the card stock needed to make work permits and Permanent Resident Cards, more commonly known as green cards. The proposal calls for providing material for at least 5 million cards a year, with as many as 9 million “during the initial period … to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements.” The contract calls for as many 34 million cards over five years.
USCIS, the Homeland Security agency that oversees immigration benefits, produces about 3 million work permits and Green Cards annually, so the new contract would at least provide the Obama administration with the flexibility to issue far more work permits or green cards even if it chose not to exercise that option.
USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley described the proposal posted earlier this month a routine contract solicitation.
“Solicitations of this nature are frequent practice,” Bentley said. He said the number of immigration applications can rise “for any number of any reasons.”
The contract proposal was first reported by the online news site Breitbart.com.
Obama said earlier this year that he would act on his own if Congress failed to pass immigration legislation. He has twice delayed making any changes, saying as recently as last month that he would hold off on executive actions until after November’s midterm elections.
The administration has repeatedly declined to say what options Obama was considering, but it is widely believed that he will expand protections from deportation already extended to more than 500,000 young immigrants who came to the United States as children. Under that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, many young immigrants who are in school or who have graduated and don’t have a criminal record can win protection from deportation for up to two years. They are also eligible for work permits.
The president does not have the legal authority to unilaterally offer immigrants in the country illegally green cards or any other permanent immigration status. But administration officials have said the president can authorize protection from deportation for immigrants on a case-by-case basis, such as with the DACA program, and issue work permits.
USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez told an audience at a Georgetown University Law Center conference Tuesday that his agency was ready for whatever immigration changes Obama may announce. He declined to provide details.