By: Allison Posner
CLINIC welcomes the Obama Administration’s August 18th announcement that the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice will be working together to re-assess and prioritize the hundreds of thousands of pending removal cases. In addition to providing temporary relief from imminent deportation to those individuals whose cases will be administratively closed, this interagency review will cut into the severe backlog that plagues our immigration court system, reducing the wait times for individual cases to be adjudicated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have long possessed discretion to allocate scarce agency resources to pursuing individuals who pose the greatest safety risk. Last year, ICE Director John Morton issued a memorandum outlining the agency’s priorities for detention and removal, noting that individuals who pose a danger to national security or public safety would take precedence in their enforcement efforts.
This June, another memo was issued to provide guidance to law enforcement officers and attorneys on the use of discretion in cases that fall outside of the agency’s top priorities. Last week’s announcement continues the theme of focusing the agency’s resources on dangerous criminals. This announcement reiterates the information in the previous memos, but immigrants and their advocates are still left with more questions than answers about the process. We eagerly await guidance on how cases will be classified as “low” or “high” priority, what criteria will be used, how advocates will be able to seek review of a particular case, whether cases may be reviewed more than once, and how the agencies will ensure that discretion is implemented fairly and consistently.
We urge the Administration to share further details as quickly as possible. CLINIC and its affiliates fear that notarios and other unscrupulous individuals may begin to take advantage of the information vacuum. CLINIC affiliates already have begun fielding questions and correcting misimpressions about eligibility for non-existent benefits. CLINIC would like to reiterate that, at this time, there are no benefits for which an individual can apply, and all individuals should continue to appear for their scheduled immigration proceedings.
This announcement does not constitute an amnesty. No one will gain immigration status. Some removal cases may be administratively closed – but they can be re-opened by the government at anytime. Only those individuals whose removal cases have been closed may then apply for (but certainly are not guaranteed) a work permit.
While time will tell whether this announcement will positively impact vulnerable immigrants and their families, the need for comprehensive immigration reform remains. Piece-meal actions such as this do not substitute for fixing the broken immigration system.
*Allison Posner is the Director of the Center for Immigrant Rights at CLINIC