A project of the Center for Community Change

White House Pledge to Immigrant Community Being Hindered by Bureaucracy, Lack of Leadership by DHS/ICE

Prosecutorial Discretion Not Being Applied to Law-Abiding Immigrants in Many Cases

Federal immigration officials have not evenly applied ‘prosecutorial discretion’ to deportation cases, and in some areas, have not implemented the Obama Administration’s plan to suspend deportation proceedings for law-abiding immigrants with strong ties to their communities.

During a national telephonic news conference today, members of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) stated that there have been numerous cases where prosecutorial discretion has not been applied since the Obama Administration announced its plan last summer.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) clarified their positions last fall on prosecutorial discretion. The agencies pledged to review more than 300,000 cases currently in deportation proceedings to identify low-priority individuals whose cases could be closed because they had strong ties to the United States and they posed no threat to society.

But this month in testimony before Congress, ICE Director John Morton said that as of March 5th, ICE had reviewed 142,000 non-detained cases and 23,000 detained cases, and that only 11,000 cases were determined to fall under ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ Only 1,583 cases have been closed.

“Immigrant and Latino communities across the nation are deeply disappointed, shocked and appalled at this dismal rate of case closure,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights for Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “Based on the numbers we have seen, we can only conclude that Secretary Napolitano and her staff are willfully disregarding the policy of prosecutorial discretion announced by President Obama last year.”

ICE continues to use a narrow “one-size fits all” analysis in its review of cases, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appears to be content with this approach, said Isabel Vinent, deputy director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“Secretary Napolitano risks undermining yet another promise made by President Obama to Latino and immigrant communities, and in an election year,” Vinent added.

Two women, Sara Martinez and Jennifer Martinez (no relation), spoke of how prosecutorial discretion has not been applied in their cases. Sara Martinez, who lives in New York, is the sole caretaker of her 6-year-old daughter. Sara faces deportation back to her native Ecuador despite having no criminal record and strong ties to the U.S.

“Since I came to the U.S., I have paid my taxes on time, I’ve learned how to speak English and I have been involved in my community,” said Sara Martinez. “I have never committed a crime either in Ecuador or in the United States. I just want to give my daughter a better life than I have had.”

Jennifer Martinez’s husband, Jaime Martinez, was recently deported back to Mexico. Jaime was the sole provider for his family of four U.S.-born children, said his wife of 14 years. Jennifer Martinez and her children live in Wisconsin.

“Because of a broken immigration system, my family has been torn apart,” Jennifer Martinez said.

“FIRM members are calling on Secretary Napolitano to demonstrate real leadership in the implementation of this program,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona. “ICE and DHS cannot continue to operate without accountability.”

FIRM is a national coalition of grassroots organizations fighting for immigrant rights at the local, state and federal level.

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