Immigration Lawyers' Survey Shows Feds Are Not Following Their Own Policy

Last summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton issued a memo directing his staff to exercise "prosecutorial discretion." ICE prosecutors were not to go after every illegal immigrant who crosses their path. A new survey, however, shows that most continue to do so.

Morton's June 17 memo, addressed to all field office directors, said it was seeking to ensure that enforcement resources were spent on the agency's priorities. Under the Obama administration, ICE has said it is focusing on deporting illegal immigrants who are criminals.

Therefore, those who are not criminals needn't be deported, the memo suggested. The directive told staff to consider an array of other factors as well, such as a person's ties to the community, including family members. If followed, this would have a huge impact, since many of the immigrants who are detained and deported have spouses and children who are American citizens.

But earlier this month, the American Immigration Lawyers Association released the results of a survey of immigration attorneys across the country. "While a few ICE offices have begun to implement the guidance, most have not and many are actively resistant," according to an AILA summary.

That is as true in Seattle as elsewhere. The survey cites one attorney who was told by the local ICE office that it would not grant prosecutorial discretion, "regardless of any positive factors." On other occasions, ICE has seemed willing to exercise discretion--but only when the local detention center, which holds immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings, is full. "If there are beds available, release requests are denied," the survey says.

All across the country, the use of discretion has been random, if it has happened at all, the survey says.

Last week, ICE came out with new, even more specific guidelines. They said, for instance, that ICE attorneys should consider dropping cases against an immigrant who has an immediate family member who is a citizen. ICE has started a review of its pending cases to sort them according to such guidelines.

AILA hailed the guidelines as a "good next step."

Meanwhile, though, immigration enforcement--and the spending that goes along with it--continues apace, allowing immigrant advocates to make their case in fiscal as well as moral terms.

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