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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The existing immigration court backlog

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Last week, President Obama announced a new immigration policy that will grant young people, brought into the country illegally, relief from deportation.

From the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis:

1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

2. Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;

3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;

5. Are not above the age of thirty.

In other words, the lowest of low immigration enforcement priorities, people who grew up in this country, have no criminal records, have an education or have served in the military, people who would be called "good citizens" were they citizens.

According to the same DHS release, people not yet in removal proceedings who meet those criteria will be given a chance to apply for a two-year deferral on prosecution.

What about people who are already in the system?

For individuals who are in removal proceedings and have already been identified as meeting the eligibility criteria and have been offered an exercise of discretion as part of ICE’s ongoing case-by-case review, ICE will immediately begin to offer them deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.

Of course, that process has been moving pretty slowly, as the New York Times reported on June 6.

(Continued after the jump)

The story's kind of complicated, but it's broken down well in this Times supplement. In short, last summer, DHS ordered a review of all 300,000 backlogged immigration cases, to identify low priority defendants whose cases could be closed and/or halted without removal. DHS granted immigration courts prosecutorial discretion to either halt or dismiss those identified as meeting low priority criteria.

The review began in November. As of May, more than 200,000 of those cases had been reviewed, and more than 20,000 had been identified as possibly meeting the low-priority criteria. But only about 4,000 were closed or dismissed under the program. (Meanwhile, more than 100,000 new immigration cases were filed between November and May.)

That's the national picture. Yesterday, Syracuse University's TRAC Immigration website released a court-by-court breakdown of the prosecutorial discretion program, looking at cases that were pending last September and have been reviewed and closed under the program by May 31, 2012. From that report:

The Los Angeles Immigration Court now leads the country with the largest number of closures under this program — 534. The Denver Immigration Court was second with 401, while the San Francisco Immigration Court was third with 387.

New Orleans Immigration court, however, has seen few closures under the program. Of 2,001 cases pending in the court as of last September, three were closed under prosecutorial discretion by the end of May.

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