U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Thursday night that it needs at least three months before people can start applying for protection from deportation under President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
That could be good news for Republican opponents of Obama's plan, since it will give them some time to figure out if they want to try to defund Obama's effort, and if so, how to go about it.
Republicans left town for the Thanksgiving break without a firm plan for attacking Obama's action, which seeks to give temporary legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants with varying backgrounds. Many Republicans want to pass a spending bill that blocks funding for Obama's plan, although others have indicated it may not be so easy to defund the proposal.
If nothing else, USCIS's fact sheet on Obama's immigration plan indicates that the implementation of the plan will take some time.
USCIS said it expects that only one aspect of the plan will be ready after three months, which is on or about February 20. That part deals with Obama's decision to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
In 2012, Obama created DACA to spare the deportation of younger illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, if they lived in the U.S. since mid-2007. On Thursday, Obama expanded DACA so it applies to people who have lived in the U.S. since 2010.
It will also expand work authorization for these people from two years to a three-year period.
USCIS said it expects this expansion to be up and running "approximately 90 days" after Obama's announcement.
Implementing other parts of Obama's plan will take longer. For example, Obama decided to defer deportation action against the illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
USCIS said it would take "approximately 180 days" for this piece to be operational.
Several other elements of Obama's announcement will depend on the issuance of guidelines and regulations, and USCIS did not have estimates for when they might appear. Guidelines and rules will be needed for:
— Children of U.S. citizens, and children and spouses of lawful permanent residents, who will be eligible for "provisional waivers of unlawful presence.
— Immigrant researchers, inventors and businesspeople, who will be eligible for certain work visas and work training.
USCIS also said that the government is trying to make it easier for lawful permanent residents to apply for U.S. citizenship, and said these changes would happen in 2015.
USCIS also warned that because Obama's plan is not yet operational, illegal immigrants who want to apply for various aspects of it should be careful not to fall victim to application scams in the meantime.
"Beware of anyone who offers to help you submit an application or a request for any of these actions before they are available," it said. "You could become a victim of an immigration scam."
The agency advised people to start gathering documents that prove their identity, relationship to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, and their continuous residence in the United States.