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It was this time last year that the Department of Homeland Security announced a new deportation policy designed to deport only the “worst of the worst” criminal immigrants while sparing low-priority immigrants. Undocumented individuals who were students, were longtime residents, had families in the US, had strong ties to their communities, who had no criminal records were supposed to be thrown out of the deportation queue, so that resources could be focused on expelling dangerous criminals. This policy change, detailed in memos from ICE Director John Morton and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, involved an unprecedented review of hundreds of thousands of pending deportation cases.
Immigrants and their allies applauded these changes and hoped they would be implemented fairly, finally allowing immigrants who considered the US their home to live their lives with less fear. Unfortunately, a year has passed since the policy was announced, and very little has changed. In some cases, the situation has even gotten worse.
Yesterday, Julia Preston’s must-read article in the New York Times reported that DHS’ vaunted case review, the second look at more than 411,000 deportation cases, has had negligible results. Fewer than 2 percent of the cases have been closed under the new deportation policy.
The New York Times follows that article today with a new editorial about how the failure of prosecutorial discretion has affected immigrants all over the country, including in the South, in Alabama, and Arizona:
Immigration advocates in the South are trying to stop the deportation of dozens of people who spoke out against abuses like dangerous working conditions, unlawful arrests, unpaid wages, racial profiling and retaliation against those trying to organize. Instead of protecting them, the administration is trying to expel them. The fate of these immigrants, known as the Southern 32, will test whether the discretion policy is worth the paper it’s written on.
There is another reason for action. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the constitutionality of Arizona’s coldblooded immigration law. If it upholds the right of Arizona and other states to wage their own immigration crackdowns, local officials and employers will surely be emboldend to push the undocumented further into the shadows. The Arizona model makes no distinction between criminal offenders and those who have earned a chance to stay.
President Obama is nowhere close to fulfilling his pledge to win legalization for 11 million immigrants who are languishing in this society without hope of fully joining it. As Congress continues to do nothing, it becomes more urgent that Mr. Obama act to protect those who could be well on their way to becoming lawful Americans but for the broken system.
In short, the Obama administration must act. When states like Alabama and Arizona are trying to expel as many immigrants as they can, immigrants need a serious and effective source of relief.