Friday, August 19, 2011

Obama To Ease Deportations of Noncriminals

The Obama Administration formally announced yesterday its support for a policy of easing deportations of non criminal immigrants. The announcement came in the form of a letter from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to Senator Dick Durbin and 21 other senators. The policy change will allow the government to concentrate its limited resources on deporting criminals while halting the removal of noncriminal immigrants with close family ties to American citizens and permanent residents.
The Napolitano letter is a formal endorsement of a policy change that has been slowly underway at immigration offices around the country this summer. It began with a memo from ICE Director John Morton on June 17 that announced his department would use “prosecutorial discretion” to halt the arrest, detention, and removal of noncriminal immigrants “to ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement resources are focused on the agency’s enforcement priorities.”
This policy reversal is an admission by the Administration of the failure of its “get tough” policy of increasing deportations of undocumented immigrants that has infuriated Latino organizations without appeasing any of the anti-immigration lobby. The policy has clogged the immigration courts with over 300,000 cases leading to backlogs in many courts of 2-4 years and longer.
The new policy was discussed in a White House blog by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs who stated, “There are more than 10 million people who are
in the U.S. illegally; it’s clear that we can’t deport such a large number. So the Administration has developed a strategy to make sure we use those resources in a way that puts public safety and national security first.” Ms. Muñoz further stated noted that the Administration “will be applying common sense guidelines to make these decisions, like a person’s ties and contributions to the community, their family relationships and military service record.”

In practical terms, it is still unclear how DHS will proceed. We have seen the first stages of this policy implemented over the summer as government attorneys have been quick to move to terminate deportation proceedings against noncitizens who clearly qualify for relief, including spouses or parents of U.S. citizens. We have also seen a more lenient policy with regard to motions to reopen prior deportation proceedings, particularly where the individual is now eligible to apply for a green card.

Still uncertain is how the program will be expanded. The administration is hinting at providing work authorization for immigrants who would qualify under the Dream Act, a proposed law that would give eventual citizenship to those who were brought to the U.S. as children and have completed high school and college or military service. Would this policy also apply to young people who have so far escaped detection and arrest by ICE? Would it include others who do not qualify under the Dream Act but are raising families in the U.S. and paying taxes? Will applicants first have to be placed in removal proceedings to get work cards? How will the administration deal with deserving individuals who have existing deportation orders but have never returned home?

The Administration has yet to answer any of these questions other than to say they will review these maters on a “case by case basis.”