Obama administration refocuses deportation on criminals

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Illegal immigrants involved in removal proceedings will have their court cases reviewed with an eye toward dismissal if their cases fall below a threshold of criminality, the Obama administration announced Aug. 18.

A working group composed of officials from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security will review the roughly 300,000 cases in the immigration court system "to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an Aug. 18 letter (.pdf) to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety," Napolitano wrote. "Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons."

Low priority cases will be dismissed and the working group will issue guidelines to ensure similar cases aren't caught up in the immigration court system, said Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs in an Aug. 18 blog post.

The case-by-case review works in tandem with a "prosecutorial discretion" policy announced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton in June 17 memo (.pdf). The memo instructs personnel to consider factors such as whether or not an illegal immigrant poses a national security or public safety concern, family ties, circumstances of arrival in the United States (such as whether they were brought here as a child) and other circumstances.

The average number of annual Justice Department immigration prosecutions grew sharply from previous years starting in 2008, with prosecutions up 117.3 percent from levels reported in 2006, according to data collected by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

More than half of deportations today involve an alien with a criminal record, Muñoz wrote in an Aug. 16 blog post. From fiscal 2008 to 2010, there was a greater than 70 percent increase in the deportation of those with criminal records and a decrease of those without criminal records, she added.

For more:
- download Napolitano's Aug. 18 letter to Reid from the democrats.senate.gov website (.pdf)
- read Muñoz's Aug. 18 blog post or her Aug. 16 blog post

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