US will focus on deporting criminals
Obama move aims to free up courts; some immigrants may stay for review
By Maria Sacchetti –
The Obama administration declared yesterday that it would grant an indefinite reprieve to an estimated thousands of immigrants facing deportation, allowing them to stay and work legally so officials can more quickly deport convicted criminals and other serious cases.
Federal officials said they are launching a review of each of the roughly 300,000 cases in the nation’s immigration courts to ensure that new and existing ones reflect the administration’s priorities to detain and deport criminals and threats to public safety.
The move is likely to inflame political tensions with immigration looming as a campaign issue in 2012, and it has major implications for
“The president has said on numerous occasions that it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases,’’ Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote yesterday to Senate majority leader Harry Reid, outlining the policy.
Doing otherwise, she added, “hinders our public safety mission - clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from individuals who pose a threat to public safety.’’
Administration officials said they do not know how many immigrants will receive a stay on their cases, though they estimated that thousands could be affected.
Susan Long, codirector of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at
“It definitely could affect a large number of people,’’ Long said.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, who prosecute immigrants, and the Department of Justice, which oversees the immigration courts, will examine the cases in the coming months and send letters to immigrants who can stay.
Those immigrants would have the chance to apply for a work permit, though they could not obtain legal permanent residency and their cases could be reopened at any time, officials said.
Officials said the shift cements the message in a June memo from the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, urging agents to focus on detaining and deporting priority cases, such as convicted criminals, immigrants who sneak back across the border after having been deported, and recent border crossers.
Officials cautioned that they would continue enforcement efforts, which led to high deportation levels in recent years.
Yesterday, advocates for immigrants rejoiced in what many said was their first victory since President Obama took office promising - and failing - to tackle immigration policy overhaul in his first year.
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, praised the move as a “humane and rational approach.’’
“This is a huge victory, not just for the immigrant and refugee community, but for all of us as American people, living up to our ideals,’’ Millona said. “It makes no sense to deport innocent children, to deport immigrant families. This is huge for the president. We commend him.’’
But others condemned the decision as a failure to enforce federal immigration laws.
“Everyone who’s here illegally should not be allowed to stay here,’’ said Joseph Ureneck, cochairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, which favors tougher controls on immigration. “They should be returned to their home country.’’
The Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform called the Obama administration’s move a “huge breach of the public trust’’ and said it would essentially halt enforcement against many illegal immigrants.
The policy shift would affect less than 3 percent of most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the
Nationwide, more than 275,000 cases were pending as of May, with the average case pending 482 days, according the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
“I know they’ll be happy,’’ he said.
But he said the new policy would do little for the 11 million here illegally.
“Anything right now is welcome, but I really believe it’s a Band-Aid approach to a gaping wound problem,’’ Maiona said.
Harvey Kaplan, a
“It just sort of says, ‘Let’s get real. We don’t have the resources. There are many good people out there [so] let’s get rid of the bad people,’ ’’ he said.
Immigrants facing deportation welcomed the news yesterday with a mix of hope and uncertainty, because they will not know if they can stay until the
For Tania Nitch, a 37-year-old immigrant from
“I’m just hoping. I’m keeping my fingers crossed,’’ said Nitch, who lives in
She said waiting has been agony. “I’m going insane. I mean I don’t know if I’m going to stay or I’m going to leave,’’ she said.
Maria Caguana, a young mother of three in
She said he had been arrested in the past for minor offenses such as driving without a license, but was an otherwise hard-working laborer who had lived here for 10 years. A few months ago, he was picked up for a deportation order he did not know he had, and she has not seen him since.
“I hope it happens’’ for him, she said of the stay.
Is this a pardon or a parole for those who were being held strictly for immigration violations rather than participating in serious criminal activity? They will be given an opportunity to apply for a temporary work permit which will, most likely, have to be renewed periodically. This will allow the authorities to closely monitor their activities and their whereabouts. They will not be able to obtain permanent residency status and their work permits can be revoked at any time and their deportation cases reopened. The clear winners in this arrangement are the immigration courts who will now have the ability to schedule these cases at any time they see fit. The only positive aspect for those being “paroled” is that they will not be incarcerated but will certainly be very closely monitored in a “prison without bars”.
Jack Meehan, Past National President
Ancient Order of Hibernians in