WASHINGTON, DC – Today’s announcement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of record high deportations in FY2011 illustrates even more the need for DHS to immediately implement its recent guidance on prosecutorial discretion, says the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
According to ICE, some 45% of the 396,906 individuals removed last year had committed only civil immigration offenses. The other 55% were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, but it appears that many of those misdemeanors were for minor violations, often created specifically to convert civil immigration violators into misdemeanor criminals.
A June 17, 2011, memo from ICE Secretary John Morton outlines for ICE agents and attorneys the factors that would deem an immigration case a low priority. They include good behavior, ties to America, schooling, economic contributions, and other equities for enforcement officials to consider when deciding what course of action to take in a particular case.
“The June memo recognizes that immigration law sometimes creates unjust consequences. For instance, a legal permanent resident who pleaded guilty after a bar fight fifteen years ago could be categorized as a criminal alien even though he’s been in the country for decades, pays taxes, and has a U.S. citizen spouse and citizen children. Even though he has a green card, the bar fight incident could render him deportable. But this is exactly the kind of person that ICE should be looking at more carefully to see if prosecutorial discretion is warranted,” explained Eleanor Pelta, AILA’s president.
“Unfortunately,” continued Pelta, “Morton’s June guidance is for the most part going unimplemented in the field. AILA lawyers from across the country are telling us that many ICE offices have done nothing to put the memo into action. Thus, deportations of people who should be left alone continue apace. Instead of spending money and time removing low-enforcement individuals from the country, ICE is supposed to be going after the really bad guys who could do us harm. With such high numbers of people being deported who pose no threat to public safety, ICE still has a long way to go,” Pelta said.
“The FY2011 data from ICE isn’t telling the whole story about the deported immigrants and it would be wrong to assume that they are living up to their enforcement priorities just because a new record was set,” Pelta concluded.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.