US Catholic Faith in Real Life

New lenient policy on immigration to be implemented

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Last June John Morton, the Director of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Custom Reform, had signaled a more lenient approach to the deportation of undocumented immigrants who posed no threat to security and had a clean criminal record. But the rate of deportations maintained a record pace—more than 360,000 this year. By the director’s own admission, only 55 percent of those deportees had criminal record, and for many of those their only crime of felony proportions was re-entering the country after an exclusion order. That means that 45 percent of deportations are not criminal. Entering the country without authorization was an administrative offense. There are 11 million of them.

The Obama administration promised the more lenient approach through prosecutorial discretion. In part it was meant to ease the crush in immigration courts and federal courts. But, politically, it was meant to mollify Hispanic voters who had voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and seal their support for 2012. It didn’t work, because the new policy was resisted by many agents in the field and was slow and confusing in implementation.  Supposed beneficiaries were being detained and deported, while others were ignored. Many dreamers “came out of the closet” in public demonstrations and were left unbothered. Some even took to urging the undocumented in Alabama, as an act of defiance to the new and harsh law, to go public.

Now ICE, in response to the growing criticism, is implementing a pilot program in Denver and Baltimore to clarify criteria for leniency and to develop procedures. The agency lawyers will review cases before immigration courts, especially those of the elderly, children, Dreamers, victims of domestic violence, adults who have lived here many years and have ties to the community--especially children. All must have clean criminal records. These low priority cases are not dismissed and can be revived by the government.

The new policy does not satisfy the critics. Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over immigration and the courts, repeats his oft quoted quip--the new policy is a “back-door amnesty”. But many immigration advocates remain wary--in part because they are distrustful of ICE for dragging its feet since the June memo announcing the policy, and in part because it’s not clear who qualifies. Also, we might add, it makes no provision for those who have already been deported who might have benefited under the new leniency. They’re waiting to see the details of the implementation of the new policy.