Saturday, November 19, 2011

Does the Prosecutorial Discretion Enforcement Memo Fall Short?

We have reported that ICE has issued more guidance on prosecutorial discretion this week. But will the guidance really help low priority cases? Here's an interesting, bad twist out of Arizona:

Terry Greene Sterling writes in the Daily Beast:

Gabriel Valdez had high “high hopes” for his undocumented immigrant clients in June, when John Morton, the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, issued a memo directing agents and prosecutors to use their “discretion” to focus resources on deporting the bad guys—immigrant terrorists, criminals, and other undocumented ne’er-do-wells—instead of booting out otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants ensnared in the nation’s troubled immigration system.

After the Morton memo was released, Valdez, a Phoenix attorney who defends unauthorized immigrants in state and federal court, anticipated fewer deportations of his undocumented clients who’d been caught in workplace raids and convicted of state felonies associated with carrying fake work papers. Instead, he discovered, these clients faced a greater risk of deportation in the wake of the memo.

The reason: In Arizona, county prosecutors used the Morton memo to their advantage by offering his clients “only plea bargains that would result in [swift] deportation.”

Although immigrants tend to commit fewer crimes than the native-born, the feds have long deported hard-core criminals after they serve their time in state or federal prisons. But in Arizona, Valdez’s unauthorized immigrant clients are not typical hard-core criminals; they have been charged with state felonies tied to working with bogus papers. Immigrant advocates call such felony charges the "criminalization of work."

Now immigration attorneys are questioning whether their clients will be helped or harmed by the Obama administration’s latest directives, which are based on the Morton memo and followed Thursday’s announcement that authorities have launched an ongoing review of about 300,000 incoming and pending deportation cases. Federal officials also will train agents and prosecutors on “prosecutorial discretion” and launch two “pilot programs” in early December to test how well the Morton memo is working. In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen called it “smart and effective immigration enforcement” that targets “criminal aliens and those who put public safety at risk, as well as those who threaten border security or the integrity of the immigration system.” Read more....


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