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ACLU Lens: NY Times Highlights DHS Latest Plan to Deport Criminals

Sandhya Bathija,
Washington Legislative Office
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November 17, 2011

The New York Times reports today that the Department of Homeland Security will begin a new system to review deportation cases in a way that officials claim will speed up the deportations of convicted criminals while stopping many deportations of immigrants with no criminal record.

DHS has claimed its priority is to deport dangerous, violent criminals who have come into the country illegally. Five months after its original announcement on this, the department will at last begin a nationwide training program for enforcement agents and prosecuting lawyers to achieve these goals and to close deportation cases that fall outside DHS priorities. Currently, about half of immigration detainees have no criminal convictions.

“Central to the plan is giving more power to immigration agency lawyers — the equivalent of prosecutors in the federal court system — to decide which deportation cases to press,” the Times reported.

“We are empowering the attorneys nationally to make them more like federal prosecutors, who decide what cases to bring,” a senior Homeland Security official told the newspaper.

But if the administration is serious about prosecutorial discretion and reducing backlogs, then DHS must ensure that this initiative covers all 300,000 cases in the pipeline, said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel.

“Prosecutorial discretion must advance fairness and justice for all, and cannot be limited to those people fortunate enough to afford private immigration counsel,” she said.

The DHS annually detains nearly 400,000 people, the vast majority of whom are Latino. About 84 percent of these detainees do not have immigration counsel, including those with mental disabilities, who make up at least 15 percent of the total immigrant population in detention.

“Under the administration’s prosecutorial discretion initiative, immigration detainees should get the same attention from DHS as immigrants who can afford private lawyers,” Lin concluded.

The new review process is to be piloted in Baltimore and Denver between Dec. 4 and Jan. 13. The ACLU will be watching closely to see whether these pilots produce materially different outcomes.

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