How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Anti-deferred action lawsuit brought by ICE agents and activists

A lawsuit filed today against top Homeland Security officials by immigration agents opposed to deferred action, which promises to grant temporary legal status to some young undocumented immigrants, has the support of high-profile immigration restriction advocates.

SB 1070 legal author and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is representing a handful of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents led by Chris Crane, president of the ICE agents' union, in a lawsuit alleging that the new Obama administration policy directs ICE agents to violate federal immigration laws or face consequences on the job. Legal costs are being paid by NumbersUSA, an immigration restriction advocacy group in Arlington, Virginia.

It's not the first time the ICE union has complained about recent Obama administration immigration policies that aren't tied to enforcement, but rather offer leniency to some otherwise deportable immigrants. Earlier this year, the agents' union protested the administration's implementation of prosecutorial discretion guidelines aimed at weeding out non-criminal immigrants who might be spared from deportation.

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Prosecutorial discretion still a slow process, with relatively few cases closed

U.S. Immigration And Customs Officials Deport Undocumented El Salvadorians

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A man is prepared for a deportation flight bound for El Salvador, December 2010

A review of deportation cases announced almost a year ago by the Obama administration is having limited success when it comes to weeding out and closing the cases of people eligible to stay in the country, let alone alleviating the backlog in the immigration courts.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as of July 20, there had been 7,186 deportation cases administratively closed nationwide as a result of prosecutorial discretion reviews that began late last year, with federal staff reviewing more than 350,000 cases.

Of these, about 6 percent have been identified as "provisionally eligible" for prosecutorial discretion, meaning this relatively small number of immigrants meet the criteria established that makes them a "low priority" for deportation. Included in the criteria: a clean record, close ties to the United States, having lived in the U.S. since childhood, having served in the military or being part of a military family, or having achieved or attempting a college education.

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ICE deportation reviews by the numbers, explained

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.

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Is prosecutorial discretion leading to fewer deportation cases?

Are the prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued by the Obama administration last year having an effect on the number of deportation cases that the administration is pursuing?

A new Syracuse University report suggests yes, federal immigration officials say no, and some lawmakers are calling "amnesty" nonetheless.

First, the report: Issued in recent days by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the number of deportation proceedings begun in the nation's immigration courts between October and December of last year (the first quarter of federal fiscal year 2012) "fell sharply to only 39,331 — down 33 percent from 58,639 filings recorded the previous quarter," a drop of more than 10,000 cases filed. The report notes that since filings are typically lower at that time of year, the numbers were adjusted for seasonal drop-off. It continues:

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NSEERS and 'special registration' are gone, but long-term effects continue

Photo by fazen/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Last spring, Homeland Security announced that it was officially ending what was perhaps the most controversial immigration-national security program implemented in the immediate wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, focused on non-citizen men from 25 Muslim-majority countries with the goal of collecting their fingerprints, photographs, and monitoring their whereabouts. 

In the beginning, those who met the criteria had to participate in a "special registration" that required reporting to immigration officials for questioning, some having to travel long distances to do so. This provision was suspended in 2003 amid much public and political criticism. But of the 83,519 men interviewed under special registration between September 2002 and September 2003, according to Homeland Security statistics, 13,799 landed in deportation proceedings.

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