Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is beginning a case-by-case review of all incoming deportation cases and some pending cases. The goal of this review process is to speed up the immigration court dockets to allow immigration judges to focus on the cases of migrants with criminal records and to halt the removals of migrants who do not have criminal records, such as close family of American citizens, and military service members. This announcement is a much-welcomed step to provide more flexibility to our nation’s rigid immigration laws and policies. Here are more details from the New York Times article:
Administration officials have flexibility to transform immigration court procedures because those courts are part of the Justice Department in the executive branch, not part of 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…
Immigrants who are deemed to qualify for prosecutorial discretion will have their cases closed, but not dismissed, officials said. That means that 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 remain in the United States, but they will be in legal limbo, without any positive immigration status…
The review will be conducted in phases. The first phase will clear the incoming cases across the country and prioritize immigrants with criminal convictions. The second phase will review cases currently in the immigration docket, but only in two pilot sites, Denver and Baltimore. Once those pilot sites review their cases, the federal government will take what it learns from those pilot reviews and implement changes nationwide.
LIRS has long advocated for the federal government to exercise discretion when enforcing U.S. immigration laws. You can read our recent detention report Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Policy to learn more about alternatives to detention and balancing the enforcement of our laws with the fair and humane treatment for all migrants.
The dramatic growth in detention has contributed to overwhelming caseloads for immigration judges, as most migrants in detention still have active immigration cases but lack an immigration attorney. LIRS works to further access to justice for migrants appearing in the immigration court system by working with local partners and calling for increased resources and efficiencies.
Though DHS’s enforcement initiatives continue to receive robust funding, U.S. immigration courts have struggled to keep up with the number of immigration cases. These limited resources have led to an “all-time high” in case backlogs, with average case wait times reaching nearly 500 days. Today’s announcement should hopefully lead to shorter wait times for an already overburdened system.
While the progress on this case-by-case review represents possible relief for some migrants, it is only a Band-Aid for our broken immigration system. This year the U.S. government detained over 360,000 migrants and deported nearly 400,000 migrants.
DHS remains committed to keeping deportation numbers at this record level while it undergoes the review process. Therefore, the key to this review will be the definition of what a “criminal alien” is. Right now, that category has a very inclusive definition. Any sort of criminal conviction (from violent crime, to traffic violations and misdemeanors) is labeled as a threat to society. It also doesn’t matter when you committed this crime. There have been reports of several cases of long-time legal adult residents being sent to countries they do not know for crimes they committed in their youth.
We will have to closely monitor how these new deportation guidelines are implemented to see what happens when ICE and DHS realize there might be a conflict between hitting the numerical target of 400,000 “criminal aliens” deported and the reality that there might not be a pool of just under half a million dangerous immigrant criminals roaming our streets.
Take action to thank the Administration for finally beginning this deportation review process while encouraging support for a broad and permanent overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.