Crime & Justice

Feds to review over 50,000 immigration cases in Los Angeles

US Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton
US Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton

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In the past year, the Obama administration has made an effort to prioritize the immigration backlog in courts. As a result, tens of thousands of immigrants in Los Angeles will have their deportation cases reviewed in 2012.

In legal lingo, it’s referred to as “prosecutorial discretion” — a review by Department of Homeland Security agencies to determine whether an illegal immigrant should be taken off an immigration judge's docket. If the immigrant has committed a crime in the United States or has a pattern of being deported and returning illegally, then deportation can be prioritized.

There are around 50,000 immigrants in L.A. whose cases are currently being reviewed. So far, 200 of them have been "administratively closed," or taken off a judge's caseload. This means that those immigrants are temporarily allowed to stay in the U.S., even without proper papers.

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explained ICE's process as they run through immigration files with a fine-tooth comb.

ICE, working in conjunction with the Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review, will temporarily shut down courts in Detroit, New Orleans, Seattle and Orlando from April 23 until May 4 so they can "conduct a thorough review of cases in those courts."

"Then we’re going to continue with the very large courts," Morton said, adding that the "very large courts" were New York, San Francisco and L.A.

ICE will start its review in the L.A. courts in the next few months, closing its courts from July 9 until July 20, and sorting through approximately 50,000 cases facing possible deportation.

Morton calls these reviews a “Herculean” task, since more than 300,000 cases will face review by the end of the fiscal year.

L.A. has 17 percent of the nationwide immigration court caseload.