The review of some 300,000 deportation cases in the nation's backlogged immigration courts recently led to some confusing headlines after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that about 16,500 pending cases would be temporarily put on hold, which some translated into these cases being "shelved."
But that's not exactly how it works. As the review process continues, there are no guarantees for those so far deemed eligible for relief. And even for the few spared removal to date, the future is uncertain.
Here's some of the recently released ICE data on the deportation reviews, followed by an explanation of what it means. From ICE:
• In total, ICE has reviewed 219,554 pending cases with approximately 16,544, or 7.5%, identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion as of April 16, 2012.
What it means: The agency has identified this many cases as being eligible for prosecutorial discretion, the guidelines for which were established by federal officials last year. The "low priority" immigrants defined in the guidelines include people who have a clean record, have close ties to the United States, have lived in the U.S. since they were minors, have served in the military or are part of a military family, have or are attempting a college education, and so forth.
But these 16,544 cases have only been identified as meeting the criteria for prosecutorial discretion. While it's good news for those identified as eligible, there are still hoops for them to jump through, such as producing additional documentation and background checks. These cases could be at any stage in the process, and not all will make the cut. "These cases have not been suspended," ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzales clarified by phone.
Of the eligible cases identified, just a small fraction so far have been administratively closed.
Which takes us to the following bullet points. ICE is reviewing both "non-detained" deportation cases, i.e. those of people not being held in detention facilities, and a smaller number involving ICE detainees. From ICE, here's the breakdown of cases so far deemed eligible for prosecutorial discretion (bold type added):
• 179,518 pending non-detained cases have been reviewed with approximately 16,518, or 9%, identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion.
• 40,036 pending detained cases have been reviewed with approximately 26, or less than 1%, identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion.
• Of the 16,518 pending non-detained cases identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion, 2,722 cases have been administratively closed.
What it means: Of all these eligible cases, only a little over 2,700 had been administratively closed as of mid-last month. This is more or less on par with recent immigration court numbers released by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which cited 2,609 cases shelved through the end of March.
What defines "administratively closed?" This means that a deportation case has been set aside, but it has not been terminated. The case can still be reopened in the future. Those who benefit can stay in the country, but they don't get legal status or permission to work.
According to the TRAC report, there were 218 deportation cases closed in Los Angeles through the end of March, four terminated and 214 administratively closed. ICE has said that reviews will continue on more than 50,000 cases in L.A.'s immigration courts.
The small number of cases truly shelved so far has not impressed immigrant rights advocates, who initially cheered the Obama administration's announcement of the review process last summer.
"The result is that 99% of all the cases being reviewed, most of them meritorious of some type of PD (prosecutorial discretion), are being flatly denied,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, in a recent statement.
So whose cases have been administratively closed? Here is how ICE describes them:
8 individuals who are a member in good standing of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States, an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States, or the spouse or child of such a member or veteran;
175 individuals who are a child, have been in the United States for more than five years, and are either in school or has successfully completed high school (or its equivalent);
182 individuals who came to the United States under the age of sixteen, have been in the United States for more than five years, have completed high school (or its equivalent), and are now pursuing or have successfully completed higher education in the United States;
23 individuals who are over the age of sixty-five and have been in the United States for more than ten years;
60 individuals who have been the victim of domestic violence in the United States, human trafficking to the United States; or of any serious crime in the United States;
16 individuals who have been lawful permanent residents for ten years or more and have a single, minor conviction for a non-violent offense;
100 individuals who suffer from a serious mental physical condition that would require significant medical or detention resources;
2,055 who have a very long-term presence in the United States, have an immediate family member who is a United States citizen, and have established compelling ties and made compelling contributions to the United States; and
103 individuals who constitute a very low enforcement priority as defined by Director Morton’s June 17, 2011 memorandum on prosecutorial discretion.
There have also been a small number of deferred actions, in which the federal government opts not to pursue deportation, and stays of final removal orders, in which the government opts not to remove someone who is already under a deportation order. Between last Oct. 1 and March 19, both were granted in just 1,273 cases.
According to ICE, the reviews are expected to be completed by midsummer.