BACKLOGS AND DEPORTATIONS GROWING DESPITE PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION
A year after the Morton’s memo on prosecutorial discretion, which intended to prioritize removal of criminals when deciding which illegal immigrants to deport, the backlog of cases in immigration courts reached new heights. In a recent article published by Texas Tribune, the author Julian Aguilar expresses the Texas immigration lawyers’ concern about the government not following its directive to become more efficient with deportations. Though the government argues that the numbers are not telling the whole story.
The statistics indicate the following – the states of California, New York and Texas top the list of the most case-loaded courts. According to TRAC, a data research tool and distribution organization at the University of Syracuse, it is shown that, as of June 2012, more than 314,000 cases nationwide awaited a resolution. The data also shows that only in 7.9% of cases pending before immigration courts, ICE sought removal based on the individuals’ criminal activity or activity endangering the national security or aiding terrorism. Thus, the rest of the backlog includes cases where individuals were charged with violations of immigration rules such as entering the US illegally, overstaying a visa, and not complying with other procedural requirements.
Clearly, the backlog problem stands contrary to the incentives of prosecutorial discretion allegedly applied by DHS for about a year. The Morton memo was meant to consider multiple factors when deciding whether to initiate deportation proceedings – level of education, US citizen immediate relatives, conditions in the person’s home country, and age when the person entered the US. As several Texas immigration attorneys attest, some of their clients who fall under the criteria designated in the memo, are still placed in deportation proceedings. The memo had little positive effect for the illegal immigrants whom it was intended to help.
On the other hand, ICE argues that, according to its statistics, there is an achievement. In 2011, ICE removed 216,000 convicted criminals, which is twice as many as in 2008. However, we cannot share ICE’s enthusiasm due to the lack of details on deportations – DHS privacy policies preclude ICE from disclosing certain information and details on the deportations.
Finally, compared to Texas, the local immigration courts in Arlington, VA, and Baltimore, MD, take9th and 15th place in the number of cases correspondingly. Yet, many court dates, for example in Arlington, are pushed as far as 2015, which means a wait of over three years in limbo for families awaiting relief.