How much does ‘Prosecutorial Discretion’ memo affect the threat of deportation?
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — On June 17, 2011, John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed a memorandum titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Aliens.”
The six-page document remained largely out of public sight for two months until President Barack Obama made a public announcement on Aug. 18. Instantly it became hot news.
Pro-immigrant groups predictably hailed it as a step forward. Anti-immigrant groups, predictably, found it deplorable.
Some saw it as a move to take the spotlight off the two-year-old Secure Communities program. The “S-Comm” policy had generated a reputation of targeting peaceful Latinos.
A few days after the Prosecutorial Discretion memo gained instant fame, some people began having second thoughts. Some, such as Francisco López, saw the plan as a move by Obama to enhance his approval ratings in popularity polls.
López, executive director of CAUSA, noted that the Prosecutorial Discretion memo is not a law. It is a policy that basically states that ICE officers should focus top priority on immigrants involved in crimes.
López warned against going to an ICE office and asking for help. “You don’t go to ICE for a work permit,” he said. “That’s not the way this will work.”
López suggested that those looking for answers to their questions should contact CAUSA. The telephone number for the Portland office is 503-915-5701; the Salem office can be reached at 503-269-5694.
In a press release Romeo Sosa, director of Voz, said, “Until we have real change in enforcement policy, cosmetic adjustments — such as a greater emphasis on ‘prosecutorial discretion’ — are not enough. We know that ICE is an agency that cannot police itself.”
Keys to “Prosecutorial Discretion“
In general, Morton’s memo called for ICE to concentrate on the most dangerous undocumented immigrants. The memo stated, “ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets to ensure that the aliens it removes represent, as much as reasonably possible, the agency’s enforcement priorities, namely the promotion of national security, border security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system.”
The memo went on to state, “In basic terms, prosecutorial discretion is the authority of an agency charged with enforcing a law to decide to what degree to enforce the law against a particular individual.”
The high-priority target category included those with a criminal history, those with a “prior removal” record, and anyone who “poses a national security or public safety concern.”
Several factors that would lessen the risk of an immigrant being deported include:
- Length of presence in U.S. and the manner of entry, especially if the person came as a young child.
- Graduation from high school in this country or pursuing higher education.
- Serving in the U.S. military or having a family member who has.
- Ties to a U. S. citizen, including family relationships, especially a permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
- Pregnancy or being nursing mother or the spouse of one.
- Age — minors or elderly persons.
- Serving as the primary caretaker of another person with a severe illness or disability.
- Being likely to be granted temporary or permanent status because you are seeking asylum or a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other crime.
At the end of the memo, Morton warned: “Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to prohibit the apprehension, detention, or removal of any alien unlawfully in the United States … .”
To read the complete six-page memorandum, search the web for prosecutorial-discretion-J-Morton-2011-06-17.
A real solution?
At least two local leaders see the “Prosecutorial Discretion” memo not as a solution but merely as a small change in the business of deportation.
“People are looking for a better life,” López said, “and that’s no crime.”
“We don’t want Band-Aids,” López stated. “We want a permanent solution to this issue.”
López pointed out that the ICE agents might define someone stopped for driving with a broken headlight and label him as someone having a criminal record.
Sosa said the newly announced program “will not change anything for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants.” He added that Obama’s “announcement is merely more tokenism from an administration that has failed to deliver true immigration reform.”
Sosa charged that programs such as the Secure Communities program that was launched in 2008 are “hard-wired to pick up folks who should not be in deportation proceedings in the first place.”
“We need to keep putting pressure on Obama,” López said. “We need to keep calling the White House and Congress. It works!”
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