The U.S. is Behind on Reviewing Suspended Deportation Cases

In August 2011, the Obama Administration announced it would review the cases of around 300,000 undocumented immigrants scheduled for deportation.

In an attempt to utilize its resources more efficiently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is focusing on deporting undocumented individuals with criminal records who are national security risks.

In fiscal 2011, the United States deported nearly 400,000 undocumented individuals but only about 55 percent had criminal records.

Though expectations were high, immigration prosecutors had only reviewed about nine percent of, and closed 1.9 percent (5,684) of, the 298,173 pending deportation cases by the end of June 2012.

The rest are left in a legal limbo, which is actually not much better than those whose deportation was deferred. They have no official immigration status or work authorization and some states like Arizona are refusing to grant drivers licenses and other benefits to these undocumented individuals.

The Review Process and Why They Are Behind

This review process came about just two months after DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director shifted its policy to focus on criminals. Immigration prosecutors are to be more lenient with non-criminal illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, who have U.S. citizen family members or who have served in the military.

Immigration prosecutors have been given significant discretion in reviewing each case for suspension. Immigration courts in eight major cities went dark for up to two weeks so prosecutors could focus on the task at hand.

Despite the extra time and discretion, DHS officials have complained that bureaucratic delays related to criminal background checks are the reason for the slow pace of the review process. This is likely due to inaccurate or questionable criminal histories from countries of origin.

Once a file has been reviewed and deemed qualifying for "deferred action," the undocumented immigrant receives an offer from the government to have their deportation suspended.

As of June 6, 2012, about half (3,998) of immigrants receiving offers declined. These individuals preferred to risk deportation for the chance of full permanent residency by taking their case before an immigration judge. There are no known statistics as to the number who rolled the dice and lost so far.

Criticisms Abound

The "deferred action" program is not without criticism (especially in an election year) from Republican lawmakers. Texas Republican and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith claims the suspended deportation is really just "backdoor amnesty."

Such assertions are little more than rhetoric as deferred deportation has always been part of U.S. immigration policy and the current program grants no permanent legal status. Nevertheless, conservative complaints are not completely without merit as the number of cases currently under review is unprecedented.

Immigration is a very complex area of the law. If you or a loved one is in the country without documentation and is potentially facing deportation, contact an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your situation and your options.

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