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

After six years of taking a more durable stance on deportations, the Obama administration final 12 months modified its coverage on which undocumented immigrants it will goal.

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

The administration issued new pointers on who ought to prime the record for elimination: threats to nationwide safety and folks with felony convictions. Officers have been directed to make others decrease priorities, akin to 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 12 months 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 a substitute slating for elimination folks with longstanding ties to their communities, no legal data, or those that doubtlessly qualify for asylum or different types of refuge within the U.S., in keeping with interviews with immigration attorneys and preliminary federal information.

“They’re presupposed to conduct a assessment across the substance of the case,” mentioned Paromita Shah, affiliate director of the Nationwide Immigration Challenge. “And what now we have 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 mentioned it makes elimination selections primarily based on the information it has on the time, however doesn’t have the capability to completely 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, current border crossers and egregious immigration regulation violators, akin to those that have been beforehand faraway from the USA,” 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 don’t have legal convictions.

Final November, the Obama administration formally ended Safe Communities, a program that allowed ICE to problem detainers, or requests to carry folks 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 mentioned, which spurred the choice to close it down.

The brand new Precedence Enforcement Program, or PEP, launched in November, nonetheless permits ICE to problem 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 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 against the law. About 15 p.c had been convicted of essentially the most severe offenses. ICE supplied just one month of information for the reason that new memo took impact.

Complicating the image is the better numbers of people that have come to the U.S. from Central America, and will 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 reduction.

“We now have to go in and mainly battle tooth and nail for every case,” mentioned Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigration lawyer in Chicago. “[We] spend an infinite quantity of assets to cease deportations on circumstances that aren’t priorities. And so I simply can’t think about what is occurring to all of the folks 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 kids, 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 pressured to work and was sexually assaulted, in keeping with an affidavit she supplied to immigration officers.

After two weeks, Nuvia mentioned she was in a position to 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 decide till 2019.

Nuvia worries day by 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 understand. It doesn’t go away.”

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

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Collection Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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