Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is it a good thing? Sweeping changes to US ICE

The NY Times is reporting  that they have obtained a document describing the new immigration priorities policy that Homeland Security will kick off this week- and it is a big deal, effecting some 300,000 cases. Let's break it down.

The policy will be aimed at instructing all actors in the deportation process- from immigration agents, to judges, to prosecutors- to streamline their cases to fit the following priorities: close out cases of non-dangerous undocumented immigrants, and speed up deportations of criminals. According to the Times, the policy is intended to:
scale back deportations of illegal immigrants who were young students, military service members, elderly people or close family of American citizens, among others.
For immigration agents, this means releasing (or perhaps not catching in the first place) people that are not dangerous criminals, repeat offenders, or national security risks. For prosecutors, this means exercising discretion in which cases to bring before the judges. And for judges, this means a more lenient approach to immigration law violators. Sounds like a good deal, right? Particularly in comparison to the heavy-handed approach the Obama administration has taken in ordering over 400,000 deportations (the most of any President in recent memory) in each of the first three years of his presidency. Perhaps that was an effort to clear out the courts to make way for this more liberal policy?

However, there is still much to be concerned about. I visited an immigration detention facility not  long ago, where most individuals held were repeat offenders or criminals. However, the most frequent crime was "loitering," that is, dwelling outside of a hardware store or similar, waiting for work. Will the new policy consider people like this to be deportable?

In addition, while Homeland Security pushes a discretionary, flexible approach, the states are in some cases pushing the opposite message. Alabama, Georgia, Arizona and other states have laws on the books making police officers responsible to some degree for enforcing immigration laws- will they also get the memo that passing non-violent undocumented youth into federal hands is likely to lead to an eventual release? And which level- state or federal- is more likely to have the more immediate impact on immigrant's lives?

At the end of the day, the mish-mash of approaches taken by the US government in the last few decades leads to fear and confusion among immigrants primarily, but also to ample confusion among the law enforcement professionals meant to interpret these laws and policies on every level. It is encouraging to see the Obama administration taking the heat off non-criminal and youth immigration law violators, but until we see Comprehensive Immigration Reform it seems hard to believe that everyone that needs to know will get the message.

US to Review Cases Seeking Deportation (via NY Times)

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