Feds dropping cases vs. crossers guilty of no other offenses
Mcclatchy Newspapers Mcclatchy Newspapers
Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 12:00 am |
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - In a controversial policy change that
Republicans call "backdoor amnesty," federal immigration authorities
across the nation are quietly dropping deportation cases against
illegal immigrants whose only offense is being here.
Between now and the middle of the summer, U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, says it will review some 300,000
pending deportation cases nationwide.
It will focus on deporting immigrants with criminal histories and
closing the cases of students, veterans and other upstanding people
unlawfully here but with close family and community ties.
In the first evidence of how the change is playing out, immigration
officials are dropping an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of the
deportation cases on the dockets in Denver, as part of a pilot
project to see how the new policy would work.
Authorities are also beginning to administratively close some San
Francisco Bay Area cases, usually after the immigrant's lawyer makes
"It's happening every day, in all places around the country," said
ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez.
The change comes as the immigration debate is likely to play a role
in the presidential race. While Latinos have expressed frustration at
President Obama's record number of deportations, Republicans say the
administration is not doing enough and that the new policy undermines
The Obama administration has argued that its new approach, first
announced in a June memo, is a smarter way of enforcing immigration
laws. The government has the funding to deport 400,000 people a year,
and nearly reached that record last year, but trying to arrest and
expel the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would be
costly and nearly impossible.
Before detaining or deporting an illegal immigrant, federal agents
are now supposed to evaluate if the person is a priority, such as a
criminal. Federal immigration lawyers are supposed to begin culling
low-priority deportations from the thousands of backlogged cases and
asking judges to close them. Administrative closure of a deportation
case is not a path to citizenship, but some whose cases are closed
will be able to get work permits.
Immigration officers always had discretionary power to grant
reprieves based on special circumstances, said Camiel Becker, a San
Francisco lawyer who attended the briefing by the region's top ICE
lawyer and field director. But never before has ICE been instructed
to use its discretion so broadly.
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