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DHS to Review Immigration Cases and Implement New Guidelines

The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will begin reviewing about 300,000 deportation proceedings to once and for all implement prosecutorial discretion measures that were instructed to be implemented in a June 2011 memo issued by John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Office of Principal Legal Advisor at ICE in charge of the review has been directed to review “incoming cases and cases pending in immigration court.” The purpose of the review “is to identify those cases that reflect a high enforcement priority for the Department of Homeland Security.” According to The New York Times , “the accelerated triage of the court docket-about 300,000 cases-is intended to allow severely overburdened immigration judges to focus on deporting foreigners who committed serious crimes or pose national security risks,” said Department of Homeland Security officials. The guidelines given to all immigration attorneys in Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ICE lists terrorism, felony convictions, murder, sexual abuse, drug trafficking, illegal entry, reentry and immigration fraud are among the crimes that are removal priorities. In contrast, cases that are not considered a removal priority and apply for prosecutorial discretion purposes are those including members of the armed forces, children who have been in the U.S. for more than five years or who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 (meant to be enforced in lieu of the Dream Act), people over 65, domestic violence victims, and people seeking asylum. The New York Times adds that “immigration agency lawyers will examine all new cases just arriving in immigration courts nationwide, with an eye to closing cases that are low-priority according to the Morton memorandum, before they advance into the court system,” while restating what Homeland Security officials said, “immigrants identified as high priority will see their cases put onto an expedited calendar for judges to order their deportations. Immigrant advocates have had different reactions to the review of deportation proceedings. The National Day Laborers Organization Network points out that this need to reaffirm the new directive is a sign that the administration’s immigration priorities are “out of whack,” displaying obvious resentment for the increase in deportations each year to about 400,000. Furthermore, they claim that through its immigration policies, particularly Secure Communities, the administration has decided to turn local police into “force multipliers,” consequently causing immeasurable suffering. Moreover, B. Loewe of the National Day Laborer Organizing Networkargues that this case review may bring with it an expansion of the definition of “criminal,” because the damaging label is never actually defined, therefore, there exists the potential for many being condemned under the agency’s new title of “criminal” when in reality they may not be at all other than for the possibility of having violated immigration laws. In contrast, the National Immigration Forumwelcomed the case review as a means of reducing the backlog of deportation cases and as a measure that will curb inequities within the system while helping to more effectively utilize their resources. The Federal for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that supports immigration enforcement measures like Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, writes that the Department of Homeland Security is beginning “Amnesty Screenings” with the move. It has said the prosecutorial discretion measures issued by Morton “constitute nothing less than the granting of administrative amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens.” While there may be a plethora of opinions on the matter-as is only natural for as divisive of an issue as immigration is-we believe that this review of cases will help to uniformly implement immigration law and will also help curb the arbitrary and abusive practices that occur in the as a consequence.

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