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- 06-11-2012, 11:49 PM #1
ICE deportation policy takes heat
By Jason Buch
Published 05:26 p.m., Monday, June 11, 2012
San Antonio Express-News
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has largely failed to resolve thousands of deportation cases one year after the agency announced it would offer reprieve to some immigrants, advocates said Monday.
Leaders of immigration organizations across the country criticized ICE for applying its new guidelines — issued in a June 2011 memo by the agency's director — too narrowly.
Only a tiny percentage of people who ask to have their cases dropped are successful, they said. And even then, the vast majority of people who get a reprieve, known as prosecutorial discretion, aren't able to legally work in the U.S.
“It's just outrageous that an administration says, ‘We're going after the worst of the worst,' ... and then concocted definitions that say 90 percent of the people who are here illegally are fit for deportation,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice Education Fund, during a conference call Monday.
The advocates said they want to see cases dropped for anyone eligible for the Dream Act, which would give legal status to some students and graduates. They also want work visas offered to those whose cases are closed, and fewer people put into deportation proceedings through ICE's jailhouse Secure Communities program.
In the June memo, ICE director John Morton said certain illegal immigrants, including those without a serious criminal history, who had served in the military or had U.S. citizen families, shouldn't be deported. ICE said it was trying to focus resources on deporting dangerous criminals.
In August, he followed up by directing the agency to review existing cases in an effort to clear a backlog of deportation proceedings.
“The ongoing case-by-case review is helping to alleviate backlogged immigration courts and enabling ICE to more quickly remove those individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety,” the agency said in a statement.
The agency said 55 percent of the people deported last year were convicted criminals, and 90 percent of all removals were considered priorities.
But according to an analysis from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the new guidelines resulted in less than 1 percent of the country's backlog of 300,000 immigration cases being closed at the end of March. In San Antonio, the percentage is even lower.
“I feel like I've had several clients who were worthy of having (their cases closed) and they didn't receive it,” said San Antonio immigration attorney Lance Curtright. “I think they could have cast a broader net, especially considering immigration courts are really clogged. I have cases still being scheduled for 2013.”
Cesar Lopez, a 35-year-old Austin resident who came to the country in 1992, was surprised when ICE denied his request for prosecutorial discretion in November. He has four U.S. citizen children, has never been charged with a crime and his parents both obtained legal residency. He was put into deportation proceedings in 2009 after being pulled over in Williamson County.
When it denied Lopez's request, ICE said the deportation case was so far along it didn't make sense to halt, said his lawyer, David Armendáriz.
About 25 percent of the 2,609 deportations dropped under ICE's prosecutorial discretion guidelines are dismissed completely, according to Syracuse's data. In those cases, the immigrants will likely have a path to legal status.
“President Obama's backdoor amnesty only benefits illegal immigrants, not Americans,” said U.S Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
But most cases, 1,959, are administratively closed, meaning they cases are left pending and can be reopened at any time. In those cases, advocates and immigration attorneys said, it's very difficult to get a work permit.
“It really resolves nothing by not offering the work authorization,” said Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
For Benita Veliz, a San Antonio Dream Act activist and St. Mary's University graduate whose deportation case was administratively closed last year, that means she's stuck in a limbo. She can't get an employment permit, so she volunteers at her church, works as a photographer and gives piano lessons.
“In one sense, I'm grateful that it allows me to stay in the United States,” Veliz said. “But at the same time, again, I'm here without a permanent solution. So I can't do the things that I really want to do, like work and continue my education.”
ICE deportation policy takes heat - San Antonio Express-NewsWe have immigration laws that just need to be enforced.