How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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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TRAC vs. ICE: Report claims more disparity in deportation stats

The back-and-forth between immigration authorities and a university center that tracks federal data has become more heated, after Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) sent out a press release today once again accusing the federal government of inflating its deportation statistics and withholding public information.

In a report last month, TRAC accused U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of inflating its tally of criminal deportations. ICE officials criticized the report as "wildly misleading," saying that deportees' criminal histories aren't always found in administrative removal records, hence the disparity in numbers.

In its release today, TRAC claims that an examination of case-by-case records provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveals that "many fewer individuals were apprehended, deported or detained by the agency than were claimed in its official statements — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency's latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics." From the release:

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New report counts fewer criminal deportations; ICE calls analysis 'misleading'

In October, the Obama administration released deportation statistics indicating that a majority of the record 396,906 people deported in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, had criminal records. Nearly 55 percent were counted as being convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, with the percentage of criminal removals overall up 89 percent since 2008.

But the numbers in a new report based on immigration court records from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) add up differently.

According to the TRAC analysis, of all the deportation proceedings initiated between July and September of this year in the nation's immigration courts, only 13.8 involved individuals charged with having engaged in criminal activity. The analysis also counts fewer removals involving criminal charges this year, as opposed to fiscal year 2010.

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