Prosecutorial discretion causing confusion for many immigrants

The U.S. immigration policy is not a straightforward area of law — there are myriad visa applications, endless limitations and provisions, and the laws always seem to be in a state of flux. This can cause an immigrant, whether they are in the country legally or not, to feel uncertain about their status.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is attempting to clean things up by simplifying their deportation process (focusing on prosecuting those with criminal backgrounds and passing over immigrants in good standing), a program we discussed two weeks ago and will be coming to Los Angeles, California this summer. But it seems this change of policy has caused that familiar feeling of confusion for many illegal immigrants.

The deportation freeze program hinges on “prosecutorial discretion,” which simply means that a prosecutor would pick and choose the cases he or she wants to take to court. Under ICE’s use of prosecutorial discretion, this means that people who have been tabbed for deportation will have their case reviewed and, if ICE deems a risk due to past criminal activity, the defendant will face deportation proceedings. If not, the defendant will have their case suspended.

But using this discretion creates confusion because some people are still facing deportation even though they do not fit the “risk” qualifiers ICE has mentioned. For example, one 29-year-old man from Moldova has been in the U.S. for six years on a work visa. He has a wife — with whom he had a 1-year-old son, born here in the U.S — and no criminal history. This man will still face deportation after ICE reviewed his case under “prosecutorial discretion.”

There are still positives to take from the program. Prosecutorial discretion has led to the suspension of 9% of reviewed deportation cases since late last year (there have been 165,000 cases during that time). However, prosecutorial discretion is not a guarantee — it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Someone faced with deportation needs experienced and reputable legal representation while these immigration laws continue to change and evolve.

Source: Denver Post, “Immigrants’ deportation cases stumble over U.S. policy change,” Nancy Lofholm, April 15, 2012

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