Image via Wikipedia
The Department of Homeland Security will begin a review of deportation cases before the immigration courts, with the goal of speeding deportations criminals and halting those of illegal immigrants with no criminal record.
The triage of about 300,000 court cases is intended to allow overburdened immigration judges to focus on deporting foreigners who committed crimes or pose national security risks. Taken together, the review and new training, which will instruct immigration agents on closing deportations that fall outside the department’s priorities, are designed to bring changes to the immigration courts and to enforcement strategies of field agents.
The policy, described in a June 17 memorandum by John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, suggested that the Obama administration would scale back deportations of illegal immigrants who were students, military service members, elderly, or close family of American citizens.
The Obama administration removed nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants in the last three years. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mr. Morton said those numbers would not decrease, but they wanted agents and courts to focus on deporting the worst offenders, including national security risks, criminal convicts and those who repeatedly violate immigration laws. Many immigration offenses, including being present in the United States without legal status, are civil violations, not crimes.
Administration officials have flexibility to transform immigration court rules because those courts are part of the Justice Department, not the federal judiciary. Central to the plan is giving more power to immigration agency lawyers — the equivalent of prosecutors in the federal court system — to decide which deportation cases to press.
In the first stage of the court docket review, which will begin today, immigration agency lawyers will look at all new cases just arriving in immigration courts nationwide, with an eye to closing cases that are low-priority, before they advance into the court system.
At the same time, immigrants identified as high priority will see their cases put onto an expedited calendar for judges to order their deportations.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported in September that the backlog before the nation’s fifty-nine immigration courts was at “a new all-time high.”
Beginning December 4, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department will start six-week projects in immigration courts in Baltimore and Denver, where teams of lawyers will comb through the current court dockets and focus on cases of immigrants who have been arrested for deportation, but who are in detention.
Immigrants who qualify for prosecutorial discretion will have their cases closed, but not dismissed, so agents could re-open the deportations at any time if the immigrants commit a crime or a new immigration violation. Immigrants whose cases are closed will be allowed to stay in the United States, but without any positive immigration status.
Deporting some illegal immigrants but not others requires a change in the mentality of agents, who have operated on the principle that any violation was cause for deportation.