From the Arizona Republic August 19, 2011:
Thousands of illegal immigrants without criminal records who are currently facing deportation could have their cases thrown out as part of a revamped deportation policy that focuses primarily on removing immigrants convicted of crimes, the Obama administration announced Thursday.
The government also will direct immigration-enforcement agents not to place immigrants into deportation proceedings simply for being in the country illegally. That would allow agents to focus deportation resources on removing serious criminals, senior White House officials said.
The changes, which would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely, come amid growing criticism heading into the 2012 presidential election from Latino and immigrant advocates. They are angry that President Barack Obama’s administration has deported record numbers of people after failing to fulfill a campaign promise to enact a legalization program for millions of undocumented immigrants and other immigration reforms.
They have been especially critical of a rapidly expanding program known as Secure Communities that has led to the deportation of thousands of immigration violators with no criminal records or who have committed low-level crimes along with thousands of immigrants convicted of serious crimes.
On the other side of the immigration debate, immigration-enforcement supporters quickly denounced the decision to throw out some low-priority cases and not pursue others as a form of amnesty that uses Obama’s administrative authority to bypass Congress.
“(The new policy) clearly demonstrates the Obama administration’s defiance of both the constitutional separation of powers and the will of the American public in its relentless effort to gain amnesty for illegal aliens,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that advocates less immigration and more immigration enforcement.
Besides the economy and high unemployment, immigration reform is a major concern for many Latino voters, who often have seen family members deported or know others who have been deported, said Rodolfo Espino, an assistant political-science professor at Arizona State University.
As a result, Obama is under pressure from Latinos and immigrant groups to back off from record deportations, he said. The government deported 392,862 people in fiscal 2010, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“For a lot of these people, it’s reached the boiling point,” Espino said.
On Tuesday, Latino activists protested outside Obama’s 2012 campaign headquarters in Chicago, calling for an end to the Secure Communities program. The federal program screens the fingerprints of people booked into jails across the country to look for immigration violators or illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
Senior White House officials denied that the new deportation policy is in response to the criticism over the administration’s deportations.
They said that changes to the Secure Communities program have resulted in more criminals being deported and that the program is now deporting more criminals than non-criminals, a shift from the past.
Louis DeSipio, a political-science professor at University of California-Irvine, said Obama appears to be trying to strike a middle ground heading into the 2012 election to appease both Latinos and immigration-enforcement supporters.
He doubts either side will be satisfied. Enforcement supporters will view the new policy as softening on illegal immigration, while Latinos and immigrant advocates will remain disillusioned with Obama for failing to get immigration reform passed, he said.
Under the changes announced Thursday, senior White House officials said the government will review 300,000 pending immigration cases one by one to look for low-priority cases that could be thrown out under a process known as “prosecutorial discretion.” Low-priority cases would include illegal immigrants living in the U.S. for a long time with families, as well as undocumented students who had been brought to this country at a young age, officials said. Gay couples would be included in the definition of families, they said.
Eliminating the low-priority cases would help unclog the Immigration Court system and free up resources that could be used to focus on illegal immigrants convicted of crimes, the officials said in a conference call with journalists. They said the policy change would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Cases being reviewed could include a combination of people now being held in ICE detention facilities and others who are free awaiting hearings.
Undocumented immigrants who have their cases thrown out would not gain any legal status and would remain illegal immigrants if they chose to stay in the country, though some might qualify for work permits, officials said. The cases could be reopened later, they said.
Norma Bernal, 40, an Avondale resident and undocumented immigrant from Sinaloa, Mexico, said she hopes the new policy will allow her to remain in the United States.
In July 2010, Bernal was arrested as part of a worksite raid conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a Sizzler steak house on Indian School Road in west Phoenix. Bernal, who stocked the salad bar, was arrested on suspicion of using false documents to gain employment. She spent three months in jail before she was turned over to immigration-enforcement officials. She said she spent another 10 months in a federal immigration-detention center in Eloy before she was released while she fights the government’s attempt to deport her.
“That is my hope, that the government will look at my case and realize that the only thing I wanted to do was work and take care of my family,” said Bernal, who has two daughters born in the U.S. and has lived in the country since 1995.
Gerald Burns, a Chandler immigration lawyer, said the immigration court in Phoenix is so backlogged, it is taking on average 3.5 years to 4 years for cases to conclude. He said some immigration judges are setting final hearings for cases as far away as October 2016.
Even though immigration officials said they are deporting more criminals than non-criminals, that does not appear to be the case in Phoenix.
Most of the cases Burns sees are low-level cases involving undocumented immigrants swept up in raids by the Sheriff’s Office or programs such as Secure Communities.
“You go to court on any given day and 90 percent of the cases you see in the courtroom are people charged with illegal re-entry or visa overstays,” Burns said.
Delia Salvatierra, a Phoenix immigration lawyer, said throwing out some low-level immigration cases might allow some immigrants to remain in the country until Congress takes up immigration reform in the future. Congress is not expected to revisit the issue until after the 2012 election at the earliest.
“I would rather see (Obama) do this administrative bandage than see people separated from their families,” she said.
Republic reporter Richard Ruelas contributed to this article.
From Fox News:
Obama Administration to Review All Deportation Cases, Apply DREAM Act-Style Criteria
The Obama administration announced Thursday that it would launch a case-by-case review of illegal immigrants slated for deportation, in a move that could grant a reprieve to so-called DREAM Act beneficiaries and thousands of others.
From the Los Angeles Times:
U.S. will review cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants in deportation proceedings
The Obama administration said it will review the cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants currently in deportation proceedings to identify “low-priority” offenders — including the elderly, crime victims and people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood — with an eye toward allowing them to stay.
COMMENTARY: Latino political leaders have been demanding Obama execrise “prosecutorial discretion” and look the other way when deciding who to enforce the immigration laws on.
Even though Obama originally had been saying he’d leave immigration policy to Congress, he’s obviously changed his mind. Got to get those Latino votes in 2012.
There is one major problem…we cannot assume the processing of the 300,000 candidates for being allowed to stay is going to actually weed out real criminals.
The last time the federal government tried to process a lot of illegal aliens to decide who got legal status, the system was overrun with fraud and the federal government looked the other way and let a lot of people stay they should have deported.
That’s why people call the 1986 immigration reform act “amnesty”.
The rising complaints from cities about Secure Communities probably influenced Obama’s decision. A good idea…deport illegal alien criminals as a priority…but turned into another one of Obama’s stat games…ICE grabbed anyone including crime victims and “removed” them. Local communities got to distrusting the feds because if crime victioms are being deported for reporting being victims of crimes, they won’t report the crime. The criminals get a free ride.
Instead of trying to make his government work better…demanding ICE concentrate on deporting real criminals… Obama has admitted his government failed with Secure Communities and now he needs to protect what he considers “innocent’ illegal aliens who have committed no crimes since commiting the crime of ilegal entry.
A lot of people do not buy this distinction.
Here are some articles to put this in context: