Has the U.S. Really Shifted on Deportations? | Immigration Battle | FRONTLINE | PBS


After six years of taking a harder stance on deportations, the Obama administration final yr modified its coverage on which undocumented immigrants it will goal.

“Felons, not households,” the president mentioned final November. “Criminals, not youngsters. Gang members, not a mother who’s working laborious to offer for her children. We’ll prioritize, similar to regulation enforcement does each day.”

The administration issued new pointers on who ought to high the listing for removing: threats to nationwide safety and other people with felony convictions. Officers have been directed to make others decrease priorities, resembling these with young children or who’ve served within the army, and victims of home violence or human trafficking, who can qualify for particular visas.

However almost a yr later, officers on the Division of Homeland Safety’s division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) don’t at all times seem to comply with these priorities, as a substitute slating for removing individuals with longstanding ties to their communities, no prison data, or those that doubtlessly qualify for asylum or different types of refuge within the U.S., based on interviews with immigration attorneys and preliminary federal information.

“They’re purported to conduct a assessment across the substance of the case,” mentioned Paromita Shah, affiliate director of the Nationwide Immigration Undertaking. “And what now we have present in our expertise, and that is fairly constant throughout the board, is that ICE continues to disregard all components — besides the detrimental ones.”

ICE mentioned it makes removing choices based mostly on the information it has on the time, however doesn’t have the capability to completely examine the main points of every case.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is targeted on sensible, efficient immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removing of prison aliens, current border crossers and egregious immigration regulation violators, resembling those that have been beforehand faraway from america,” mentioned Jennifer Elzea, an ICE spokeswoman.

Whereas ICE hasn’t but launched information for 2015, a take a look at preliminary information means that the majority of the people that ICE requested native regulation enforcement to detain should not have prison convictions.

Final November, the Obama administration formally ended Safe Communities, a program that allowed ICE to difficulty detainers, or requests to carry individuals in state and native custody that the company believed have been within the U.S. illegally, based mostly on biometric information obtained throughout their arrests. Roughly 340 jurisdictions had refused to cooperate with this system, ICE mentioned, which spurred the choice to close it down.

The brand new Precedence Enforcement Program, or PEP, launched in November, nonetheless permits ICE to difficulty detainers based mostly on biometric information, however solely asks native regulation enforcement to inform federal officers when they’re making ready to launch somebody who poses a risk. ICE mentioned that has introduced “over half” of these jurisdictions again on board, though it didn’t provide a selected quantity. 

Whereas there isn’t but clear information on who ICE has requested to detain, an evaluation by researchers at Syracuse College of seven,993 detainers issued in April 2015 confirmed that 67 p.c of individuals had not been convicted of a criminal offense. About 15 p.c had been convicted of probably the most critical offenses. ICE offered just one month of information for the reason that new memo took impact.

Complicating the image is the higher numbers of people that have come to the U.S. from Central America, and should have credible asylum claims however stay in danger for deportation, attorneys and advocates say. Attorneys say they fear that girls and youngsters in household detention facilities, in addition to others swept up by ICE, could also be deported earlier than they’ve an opportunity to make a case, both for asylum or different aid.

“We’ve to go in and principally combat tooth and nail for every case,” mentioned Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigration lawyer in Chicago. “[We] spend an unlimited quantity of sources to cease deportations on circumstances that aren’t priorities. And so I simply can not think about what is occurring to all of the individuals that aren’t represented.”

Nuvia is one case that Ruiz-Velasco has been combating for. A 43-year-old mom of 4, Nuvia got here to the U.S. from Guatemala illegally for the primary time in 1995. Nuvia requested that her final title not be revealed for security and privateness causes.

She stayed for greater than a decade, marrying and having youngsters, earlier than she returned house to bury her father in 2011. When Nuvia returned to the U.S. in 2013, she mentioned she was held captive in a house the place she was compelled to work and was sexually assaulted, based on an affidavit she offered to immigration officers.

After two weeks, Nuvia mentioned she was in a position to escape, however was finally apprehended by immigration officers. She has since been slated for removing. She was allowed to return to her household whereas she waits for a verdict. Due to the courtroom backlog, her case gained’t go earlier than an immigration choose till 2019.

Nuvia worries every day about being despatched again to Guatemala. She stays at house, she says, and has fallen prey to despair. With assist from Ruiz-Velasco, Nuvia has utilized for a T visa, which is reserved for victims of human trafficking. She hopes to listen to a verdict within the coming months.

“I don’t exit on my own for any cause,” Nuvia mentioned. “It’s not a life, you already know. It doesn’t go away.”

ICE wouldn’t remark straight on the case. Her lawyer, Ruiz-Velasco, mentioned Nuvia doesn’t match the company’s high classes for removing. “She’s not a precedence for immigration in any sense of the phrase,” she mentioned.


Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Collection Senior Editor, FRONTLINE