Obama Administration Backs off from Deporting Violators of Minor Misdemeanors

Monday, December 31, 2012
Deportation flight to Mexico (photo: Ron Medvescek, Arizona Daily Star)

Apparently seeking to avoid another record-breaking year for deportations, the Obama administration announced a new deportation policy Friday that focuses exclusively on those with serious criminal convictions. Under the old rules, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were supposed to treat misdemeanor offenders as a low priority but were not barred from issuing detainer requests to local law enforcement for them.


Now, however, ICE agents are no longer allowed to issue detainer requests against unauthorized aliens arrested for minor misdemeanors like traffic offenses and other petty crimes, such as selling food out of one’s home or smoking in a non-smoking area. The new policy instructs agents to issue detainers only for those convicted or charged with a felony; those with three or more non-minor misdemeanor convictions; and those with serious misdemeanors, like those including violence, abuse, drunk driving or any other “significant threat to public safety.” Further, the new policy does not apply to immigrants who have previously been deported, committed immigration fraud or who are considered national security threats.


ICE Director John Morton explained in a statement that “Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities. In order to further enhance our ability to focus enforcement efforts on serious offenders, we are changing who ICE will issue detainers against.”


The policy applies only to ICE, and thus does not affect detainers used by Customs and Border Protection, the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that includes the Border Patrol. In addition, ICE is ending agreements with some local law enforcement agencies that objected to being used as deputized officers to question people as to their immigration status or detain suspected unauthorized aliens.


The new policy comes as a growing number of localities—such as Los Angeles—are resisting DHS practices that allowed officers to issue detention orders indiscriminately, and in the wake of Obama’s November election victory, which depended largely on Latino voters, who have been critical of the administration’s deportation policy.


ICE also announced that it deported 409,849 people in fiscal year 2012—a record number, compared with 291,060 in 2007. The majority of the deportees (55%) had criminal pasts, another record, and another 21% were repeat immigration violators. Of the more than 230,000 people deported through Secure Communities since the program's inception in 2008, about 30% were convicted of a crime no worse than a misdemeanor, according to ICE statistics.


“There are such a large number of people targeted through this program, who if this had been in effect since the beginning, would not have been deported,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an immigration attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

New ICE Policy Narrows Deportation Pool (by Elizabeth Aguilera, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Feds Exclude Minor Offenses from Deportation Program (by Guillermo Contreras, San Antonio Express-News)

ICE Excludes Minor Offenses from Deportation Program (by Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Sets Deportation Record in 2012 (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Court Blasts U.S. Attorney for Deporting Witnesses (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Quarter of Those Deported Through Violent Illegals Program Have No Criminal Record (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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