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Former ICE Director: Those Who Re-Enter Should Not Be Deportation Priorities

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President Obama recently ordered a review of deportations, looking for ways to make the US immigration system more humane.  But as we and others have pointed out, we already know a lot of what needs to be fixed.  Case in point, in an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times today, former Acting ICE Director John Sandweg expressed his support for eliminating “‘non-criminal re-entrants and immigration fugitives’ as a priority category for deportation.”

This is major, and here’s what it means in non-immigration jargon.  While ICE claims that 98% of deportations meet one of their “civil immigration enforcement priorities,” those “priorities” include anyone who has been handed a deportation order in the past; didn’t get notice of their court date; or were deported but returned to be with their families.  There is a huge difference between a father and primary breadwinner trying to return to his family and a dangerous criminal who violates immigration law with abandon.  But current policy puts them in the same category and that is wrong.

Sandweg explains:

Current ICE policy prioritizes these individuals solely because they have previously been caught up in our immigration system, not because they represent a criminal threat. Taking them off the priority list would dramatically advance the president’s goal of a more humane enforcement system and would enhance public safety and border security…As a result, each year, tens of thousands of people are treated as enforcement priorities based on their immigration history alone.

Many of these people have been in the United States for a decade or more. They often have spouses who are U.S. citizens and have never been convicted of a criminal offense. Frequently, they were deported years earlier and returned to this country to reunite with their families. As a result, focusing ICE’s effort on them disproportionately separates parents and children, breadwinners from families, spouse from spouse.

Maria Arreola, mother to DREAMer and activist Erika Andiola, was nearly deported last January over a removal order she was handed in 1998.   Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez was deported this year because he re-entered the country sixteen years ago to be with his family.  And there are many other people like Erika’s Mom and Josue out there who are taking care of families and would qualify for immigration reform if passed by Congress.  It makes no sense for the Obama Administration to prioritize these men and women for deportation.

But there’s another problem.  Not only is Obama’s DHS prioritizing their deportations, but Obama’s DOJ is actively prosecuting them for “illegal re-entry” and turning them into felons.  Just last week, Alfredo Ramos of Ohio received a stay of deportation from ICE.  At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice continues to prosecute Alfredo for his alleged “illegal re-entry.”  Alfredo is a father to two U.S. citizen children and the stepfather of one.  He has lived in the U.S. for 24 years.  Even ICE decided fit to grant him a stay of deportation.  So why is U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton continuing to prosecute him for a federal felony?

The DOJ is, essentially, creating criminals instead of using their obvious prosecutorial discretion.

As Sandweg writes, classifying people as criminals just because they were removed and then returned to be with their families is insane, and doesn’t recognize the contributions that they’ve made as taxpayers and as breadwinners.  DHS should change its policy immediately to remove this blanket category from the “priority” list and focus in on the real threats to society.  And DOJ should stop turning mothers and fathers that are just trying to be caretakers into criminals.