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 might goal.

“Felons, not households,” the president stated final November. “Criminals, not kids. Gang members, not a mother who’s working exhausting to offer for her children. We’ll prioritize, similar to regulation enforcement does on daily basis.”

The administration issued new tips on who ought to high the listing for elimination: threats to nationwide safety and other people with felony convictions. Officers have been directed to make others decrease priorities, resembling these with babies or who’ve served within the navy, 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 all the time seem to comply with these priorities, as an alternative slating for elimination individuals with longstanding ties to their communities, no legal data, or those that probably qualify for asylum or different types of refuge within the U.S., in line with interviews with immigration attorneys and preliminary federal information.

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

ICE stated it makes elimination selections primarily based on the details it has on the time, however doesn’t have the capability to totally examine the small print of every case.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is concentrated on good, efficient immigration enforcement that prioritizes the elimination of legal aliens, latest border crossers and egregious immigration regulation violators, resembling those that have been beforehand faraway from the USA,” stated 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 shouldn’t have legal convictions.

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

The brand new Precedence Enforcement Program, or PEP, launched in November, nonetheless permits ICE to subject detainers primarily based on biometric information, however solely asks native regulation enforcement to inform federal officers when they’re making ready to launch somebody who poses a menace. ICE stated that has introduced “over half” of these jurisdictions again on board, though it didn’t supply 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 % of individuals had not been convicted of a criminal offense. About 15 % 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 ladies 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 reduction.

“We have now to go in and principally struggle tooth and nail for every case,” stated 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’t think about what is going on 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 identify not be printed for security and privateness causes.

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

After two weeks, Nuvia stated she was capable of escape, however was in the end apprehended by immigration officers. She has since been slated for elimination. 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 melancholy. 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 motive,” Nuvia stated. “It’s not a life, . It doesn’t go away.”

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

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Sequence Senior Editor, FRONTLINE