Attorneys allege ICE makes little distinction between deporting high and low-risk immigrants

Blanca Ramirez holds her son Jonathan at a park in Pico-Union. Ramirez faces deportation despite having no criminal record and a U.S.-born son.
Blanca Ramirez holds her son Jonathan at a park in Pico-Union. Ramirez faces deportation despite having no criminal record and a U.S.-born son. Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

L.A. County faces one of the biggest immigration court backlogs in the country — and most of those waiting are facing deportation. Despite new guidelines, attorneys say that immigrants who are a low priority in the system are still getting deported.

Blanca Ramirez is a young, single, Mexican mother of a U.S.-born son who is now facing deportation. A little over a year ago, she was selling fruit from a street cart when an LAPD officer approached and asked for her sales permit, which she couldn’t provide.

"I was taken to the police station, and from there, I was taken to court," she recalls. "I was told I didn’t have a criminal record […] In my mind, I was convinced I’d be let go, and I was happy. But it didn’t turn out that way.”

With the help of a pro-bono lawyer, Ramirez is fighting her deportation order. She is one of 53,000 immigrants in the L.A. area whose cases could qualify for administrative closure. In other words, her case could be closed and she’d be allowed to stay.

But some immigration advocates say her chances are very slight, even with her clean record.

Victor Nieblas is with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He says that recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidelines, known as prosecutorial discretion, are supposed to make it easier for immigrants like Blanca Ramirez to stay in the U.S.

“What prosecutorial discretion does is that it focuses on the most dangerous of our community," Nieblas explains, "and does not focus on the folks who just want to be here and work.”

But, he says, the reality on the ground is less encouraging.

“What we have been seeing on the front lines in immigration courts is that the policy is not being implemented adequately," says Nieblas. "We have seen the numbers, they are dismal.”

According to him, immigrants who are a low priority to ICE (those with a clean record, and U.S.-born children) are still being deported. According to recently-released federal data, only 1 percent of all Los Angeles deportation cases are facing administrative closure.

ICE could not be reached for comment. But in previous interviews, the agency has said its formal review of L.A. cases will start in the next few months.

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