Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Obama administration's new deportation policy being applied unevenly

A man is prepared for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador in Mesa, Arizona, December 2010
A man is prepared for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador in Mesa, Arizona, December 2010
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A series of recent posts on Multi-American highlighted how a new deportation policy announced in August by the Obama administration, which promised to potentially spare thousands from deportation, was being applied unevenly.

Homeland Security officials announced that they would review the deportation cases of some 300,000 immigrants deemed a low priority for removal, among them young people who arrived here as minors and had no criminal record. But people who meet the criteria for leniency have continued moving through the deportation pipeline. One prominent recent example was Matias Ramos, a UCLA graduate and student activist who in September suddenly found himself wearing an electronic shackle and informed that he was to be deported to Argentina, where he was born.

Ramos was granted a last-minute temporary reprieve, as have other potential young deportees who have been the focus of social media campaigns by student activists and advocacy groups. But while some like these have been spared, others who meet the criteria and have similar backgrounds and similarly clean records continue to be deported.

The New York Times examined the problem in a story this weekend, citing from a new report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council. The report collected data from 252 cases handled by attorneys who had asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to exercise prosecutorial discretion for their clients. From the story:

“The overwhelming conclusion is that most ICE offices have not changed their practices since the issuance of these new directives,” the report found.

“This is a classic example of leadership saying one thing and the rank and file doing another,” said Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the lawyers association. The report found that training for immigration officers on the new guidelines had been lacking.

Officials at the Homeland Security Department acknowledge the policy’s slow start. Mr. Morton’s June guidelines were followed by a three-month lull, when resistance grew among agents in the field. In late September, Ms. Napolitano and Mr. Morton went on the offensive to press the policy, and since then Mr. Morton has been on the road inaugurating training programs.

“Like any major change in enforcement policy, this is a work in progress,” Mr. Morton said by telephone from Miami, where he was joining in a training session. “I have been handling much of the initial explanation myself, because I feel so strongly about it.”

Some of the immigrants whose cases were documented in the report experienced vastly different outcomes, despite similar legal backgrounds. Included in the story are cases like that of Rubén Quinteros, a 43-year-old undocumented immigrant from Uruguay who was arrested by immigration officials eight days before his planned wedding and deported in late October. The end result of his case was a far cry from that of Manuel Bartsch, an 24-year-old undocumented man brought to the U.S. from Germany when he was 10. After fighting deportation for years, his deportation case was terminated earlier this month, and he will now be able to apply for a work permit.

Last month, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano announced that a pilot program to begin reviewing the cases of immigrants deemed a low deportation priority would begin "in a few weeks."