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Who is a 'low priority' under DHS deportation guidelines?

Photo by davipt/Flickr (Creative Commons)

After yesterday's announcement from the Department of Homeland Security that it will review some 300,000 cases of immigrants in the deportation pipeline, potentially sparing many from removal, a Obama administration official posting on the White House Blog linked to "common sense guidelines" that will be applied in deciding who goes and who stays.

An excerpt from what was posted by Cecilia Muñoz, White House intergovernmental affairs director:

So DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. They will be applying common sense guidelines to make these decisions, like a person’s ties and contributions to the community, their family relationships and military service record.

The link leads back to a June 17 memo from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton that urged agency staff to use prosecutorial discretion in the cases of certain immigrants, particularly those without a criminal record, those who arrived here as minors and those who have served or are connected to the military. From the memo, some of the factors to be considered (bold type added):
When weighing whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be warranted for a given alien, ICE officers, agents, and attorneys should consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to –

• the agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities

• the person’s length of presence in the United States, with particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status

• the circumstances of the person’s arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child

• the person’s pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States

• whether the person, or the person’s immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat

• the person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants

• the person’s immigration history, including any prior removal, outstanding order of removal, prior denial of status, or evidence of fraud

• whether the person poses a national security or public safety concern

• the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships

• the person’s ties to the home country and condition in the country

• the person’s age, with particular consideration given to minors and the elderly

• whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent

• whether the person is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relative

• whether the person or the person’s spouse is pregnant or nursing

• whether the person or the person’s spouse suffers from severe mental or physical illness

• whether the person’s nationality renders removal unlikely

• whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as a relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

• whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as an asylum seeker, or a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other crime; and

• whether the person is currently cooperating or has cooperated with federal, state or local law enforcement authorities, such as ICE, the U.S Attorneys or Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, or National Labor Relations Board, among others

The June memo goes on to note that the list is “not exhaustive and no one factor is determinative” and that officers, agents and attorneys should consider consider prosecutorial discretion on a case by case basis, as was emphasized by administration officials yesterday.

Yesterday's announcement further crystallized the administration's emphasis on seeking out people with criminal records to deport, a philosophy that has been used to defend its embattled Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, which critics say lands too many non-criminals and low-level offenders in the deportation net.

At the same time, the policy change doesn't provide permanent legal status for those spared deportation. Some may qualify for work permits if allowed to remain in the country, but it's not a blanket provision.

"There is no general process for work permits," Muñoz wrote yesterday on Twitter in response to a question during a live chat. "Some people whose deportations are suspended may qualify, some may not."