by Sue Weishar, Ph.D.
On August 18 the Obama Administration announced in a letter to 22 senators that the U.S. government will no longer focus scarce resources on deporting low-priority individuals, such as college students and U.S. military veterans. Under the new policy an interagency working group consisting of Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice officials will review on a case by case basis the approximately 300,000 cases in deportation proceedings. Individuals in proceedings that are found to meet the criteria for “prosecutorial discretion”, outlined in a June 17 memo from the Director of ICE to ICE attorneys and law enforcement officials, will have their deportations suspended and may be eligible to apply for a work permit. One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from immigrant communities from across the country over this news.
It is important, however, for immigrants and their families to understand that there are no rules or guarantees as to what type of case will be considered low priority, and that to intentionally get oneself placed in removal proceedings in the hope of obtaining work authorization could prove disastrous. Also, this change in policy does not confer legal status to those who receive prosecutorial discretion. In other words, there is still a great need for the DREAM Act, and better yet, comprehensive immigration reform.
According to the June 19 memo, 19 criteria (discussed here) should be considered in making a determination to administratively close a case and whether or not a person should be arrested and placed in proceedings to begin with.
In addition, the memo identifies the following six classes of person as warranting “particular care” when making decisions regarding whether to prosecute or not:
Immigrant advocacy organizations were cautiously optimistic that this new guidance from the Obama administration marks a significant change in direction in the government’s policies toward undocumented immigrants. Deportations have reached record numbers under the Obama Administration, and this administration’s enforcement programs, particularly the mis-named Secure Communities Program, have torn apart hundreds of thousands of families and created widespread fear and mistrust in immigrant communities.
There is still much confusion about the new policy. Unfortunately unscrupulous lawyers and notarios are already taking advantage of the situation by promising unauthorized immigrants work cards and legal status. Because of the widespread confusion, please make available a Consumer Advisory (in Spanish and English) from the American Immigration Lawyers Association to advise and caution immigrants you know who may be affected by the Obama Administration’s August 18 announcement.
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