Obama Administration's New Policy on Low Priority Immigration Offenders Draws Criticism

White House

The Obama administration announced a revision to its policy on deportations earlier this year, stating that it would review cases for over 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing removal that it characterized as “low priority.” These immigrants included those who have been present in the U.S. for a long period of time with little to no criminal record and those who arrived here as children and remained. This policy, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, has faced criticism from both opponents and advocates of immigration rights. Advocates contend that the administration has not applied the policy consistently, causing frustration for immigrants facing deportation and their attorneys.

The change in policy came after last year’s failure of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in the Senate, which would have provided a path to legal permanent residence for youth who came to the U.S. illegally as children and who fulfilled certain educational requirements. We previously reported on the highly partisan nature of the bill’s failure, and what it might portend for immigrants’ rights in the future. Immigration advocates therefore welcomed the new policy, hoping it would bring more compassion and common sense to the deportation system.

Since the new policy took effect in August, results have been mixed at best. Immigrant advocates now charge that the sort of deportation cases supposedly put on hold by the new policy have continued almost unabated. One person caught in the confused implementation of the new policy is Shamir Ali, originally from Bangladesh, who now faces deportation after living in the U.S. since he was seven years old. He apparently would have been eligible for DREAM Act relief had it passed. Another case involves Guatemalan Eulalia Barrientos, who has resided in the U.S. for almost twenty years and has two U.S. citizen children. On the verge of deportation, she suddenly received a one-year stay of deportation after her case received extensive media attention. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) simply stated that her reprieve was a result of “prosecutorial discretion.”

Much of the administration’s new approach, in reality, is based on the discretion of the ICE officials handling individual cases, followed by the immigration judges presiding over deportation cases. The administration and immigration officials can set out guidelines for how to handle certain types of cases, such as those who might have been eligible under the DREAM Act, but decisions rest with local officials and agents. Consistency is difficult in such a system, and so it necessarily falls on the immigrants themselves and those who advocate for them to be aware of how the policy is implemented and to fight to make sure local officials implement it properly. Perhaps, if the stated goals of the Obama administration have the opportunity to develop over enough time, a consistent application will emerge. That would be an ideal situation for a perfect world. Until then, the adage that “all politics is local” must apply.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.

Web Resources

Memorandum: “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens” (PDF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, June 17, 2011
Building a 21st Century Immigration System (PDF), whitehouse.gov, May 2011

More Blog Posts:

Judge Orders Deportation of Undocumented Dancer Passing Through Ohio, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, November 8, 2011

Ohio Immigration Lawyer: Get Out of Removal (Deportation) Proceedings for Free? Not Exactly – Noncriminals Can Get Out in 30 Days!! Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, November 23, 2010<

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