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11/09/11 | Lawsuits Filed Against Department of Homeland Security Seek Greater Transparency

Washington, D.C.—The American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC) this week filed two lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to compel the release of records relating to noncitizens’ access to counsel before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The LAC pursued disclosure of these records, as well as records from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed last March. To date, USCIS has failed to turn over any documents, and CBP has turned over only a few excerpts from its practice manuals. ICE has informed the LAC that it conducted a search for records, but that it is “unable to locate or identify any responsive records.” The LAC has filed an administrative appeal of ICE’s determination and will pursue litigation if necessary.

These FOIA requests were prompted by the results of a survey conducted by the LAC and the American Immigration Lawyers Association that revealed widespread restrictions on access to counsel before USCIS, ICE and CBP. Such limitations include bars on attorney presence at CBP inspections, limitations on the ability to consult with attorneys in ICE detention facilities and during questioning by ICE, and restrictions on attorneys’ ability to participate in interviews before USCIS. The survey also highlighted significant variations in policies and practices in DHS offices throughout the country.

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11/09/11 | AILA-AIC Survey Reveals ICE Officials' Sporadic Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion

Washington, DC – The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council (AIC) released a new survey today finding that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and attorneys across the country are applying different standards on prosecutorial discretion despite the issuance of national policy memoranda this summer. The report, which includes inform ation about all 28 ICE offices nationwide, shows that most ICE offices have not even implemented the two headquarters’ memos. These discrepancies reflect a need for ICE and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership to issue additional guidance to its rank and file.

“We felt that ICE’s June 2011 memoranda about the use of prosecutorial discretion in certain types of immigration cases were clear and straightforward,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. “But,” Pelta continued, “these survey results show that ICE agents and attorneys are not willing to use the discretion they are responsible for implementing without further guidance. They are asking for more, and the agency’s leadership should help them get it,” said Pelta.

According to Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, "the June 2011 memo lays out a basic premise in law enforcement: the proper exercise of discretion is an integral part of any law enforcement effort to focus its resources effectively. If, as this survey reveals, many local immigration officials are unwilling to accept this basic premise, then the challenge for DHS and ICE is to back the memo up with the leadership, training and support necessary to make sure that these policies are actually being implemented."

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11/04/11 | DOJ Responds Forcefully to Civil Rights Disaster in Alabama, What Will DHS Do?

Washington D.C. – This week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was filing suit in South Carolina to block Act No. 69 (formerly SB 20), South Carolina’s new anti-immigrant law—modeled on Arizona’s SB1070. DOJ argues—like it did in Utah and Alabama—that the law is unconstitutional and interferes with the federal government’s ability to set and enforce immigration policy and is likely to result in civil rights violations. Following the legal challenge, the DOJ Civil Rights Division also sent a letter to Alabama’s public schools reminding them of their duty to provide public education to all children in the state regardless of immigration status. 

The DOJ is challenging state legislatures that pass immigration enforcement laws that interfere with the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration laws and setting priorities. The DOJ’s effort on this case reflects their commitment to protecting constitutional principles and individual rights, a commitment that should extend to pursing vigorous challenges in other states that have passed similar laws, including Utah, Georgia, and Indiana.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also has a strong role to play and should respond to the civil rights crisis taking place in the states and make good on Secretary Napolitano’s assurance that her agency will not be complicit in enforcing Alabama’s new law through federal immigration enforcement actions. 

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09/29/11 | Alabama’s Dangerous New Anti-Immigrant Law

Washington D.C. - Yesterday, Judge Sharon Blackburn failed to enjoin major portions of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, HB 56, leaving many dangerous sections open to implementation. Local police, for example, are required to act as federal immigration enforcement agents by demanding proof of legal status from anyone who appears to be foreign. Other provisions—that go further than Arizona’s law—insist public school administrators check the legal status of students and their parents and create confusing and burdensome new restrictions on contracts between the state government and immigrants and between private citizens and immigrants. It’s unclear how far the restrictions on contracts will go, but at a minimum they will limit access to housing and utilities for anyone who cannot produce the proper documentation.

Although supporters claim the law will solve the state’s economic problems and reduce crime, HB 56 will inflict greater economic damage to Alabama, costing the state millions to implement and defend. And the crime argument simply doesn't hold water. Since 1990, Alabama’s unauthorized population has risen from five thousand to 120 thousand.  Yet the violent crime rate in the state has fallen by more than a third. Restrictive immigration laws have proven to reduce, not maximize, law enforcement effectiveness.

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09/09/11 | LAC Issues Practice Advisory on DHS’s Plan to Review all Removal Cases for Prosecutorial Discretion

Washington, D.C.—The American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC) is pleased to announce the release of a new practice advisory: “DHS Review of Low Priority Cases for Prosecutorial Discretion.” Following an announcement on August 18, 2011, a joint Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-Department of Justice (DOJ) working group has been established to review all pending removal cases and to administratively close those cases that do not fall within the agency’s highest immigration enforcement priorities, namely, national security, public safety, border security and the integrity of the immigration system. This Practice Advisory details information that is known to date about the review and includes suggested steps that attorneys can take to ensure that DHS has the information it needs to determine that a client’s case is “low priority.”

For a complete list of all LAC Practice Advisories, please visit our website.

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08/22/11 | DHS: Prioritizing Enforcement and Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion

Washington D.C. - Today, the American Immigration Council hosted a briefing to discuss the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement last week that it would issue agency-wide guidance to make certain that prosecutorial discretion is exercised in a manner that ensures the agency's enforcement resources are used to remove those who pose the greatest risk to public safety. DHS also announced the creation of a joint committee with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that will review nearly 300,000 cases currently in removal proceedings to determine which ones are low priority and can be administratively closed in order to begin unclogging immigration courts. While it is unclear how these proposals will play out in practice, the federal government must continue to assert its authority over immigration given the rise of state legislative initiatives that seek to impose different priorities on immigration enforcement.

Melissa Crow, Director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council discussed the practical implications of the use of greater prosecutorial discretion and had a warning for immigrants not in removal proceedings:

“Prosecutorial discretion is not a new concept, and is exercised on a daily basis by law enforcement agencies. It refers to the authority of a law enforcement agency or officer to decide whether – and to what extent – to enforce the law in a particular case. Prosecutorial discretion can take a variety of forms, depending on the nature of the case involved.

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08/19/11 | Prosecutorial Discretion Guidelines May Provide Temporary Relief to Gay and Lesbian Bi-National Couples

Washington D.C. –Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that they are taking concrete steps to implement existing guidance on prosecutorial discretion across the agency in an attempt to provide relief for low priority immigration cases. DHS also announced the creation of a committee which will review 300,000 immigration cases currently in removal proceedings to determine which cases are low priority and can be administratively closed. One of the factors in determining low priority cases is family relationships and community ties—factors the Administration said yesterday may apply to gay and lesbian families.

There are currently 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples in the United States, many of whom are routinely denied applications for lawful permanent residence and other relief from deportation due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Enacted in 1996, DOMA prevents the federal government—including DHS—from recognizing marriages or civil unions of same-sex couples for purposes of receiving federal benefits. Although the Administration determined that parts of DOMA were unconstitutional, DHS is still denying immigration benefits to same-sex spouses of bi-national couples.

DHS’s recent announcement, however, suggests that the guidelines on prosecutorial discretion may provide temporary relief to gay and lesbian bi-national couples. On a conference call hosted by the Immigration Policy center yesterday, a panel of experts discussed how the new policy may help gay and lesbian bi-national couples:

Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney with the Council’s Legal Action Center, said:

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08/18/11 | DHS Announces Expansion of Prosecutorial Discretion Guidelines

Washington D.C. - Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would put guidelines in place across all immigration agencies to ensure that its enforcement priorities are focused on removing persons who are most dangerous to the country.

In a letter to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and other senators who had requested that DHS consider deferring the removal of all DREAM Act eligible students, DHS announced that it would not categorically defer removal, but that persons who were not high priority targets for removal would have the opportunity to request prosecutorial discretion on a case by case basis. Low priority cases—previously identified in a prosecutorial discretion memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton on June 17—include persons who are not criminals and have been in the country since childhood, have strong community ties, are veterans or relatives of persons in the armed services, are caregivers, have serious health issues, are victims of crime or otherwise have a strong basis for remaining in the United States.

DHS announced the creation of a joint committee with the Department of Justice that will review nearly 300,000 cases currently in removal proceedings and determine which cases are low priority and can be administratively closed. In addition, agency-wide guidance will be issued to ICE, USCIS and CBP officers to ensure that they appropriately exercise discretion when determining whether a low priority case should be referred to immigration court.

Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, stated:

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08/15/11 | Board of Immigration Appeals Guts Legal Protections for Immigrants Under Arrest

Washington, D.C.—The American Immigration Council strongly condemns last week’s ruling from the Board of Immigration Appeals holding that immigrants arrested without a warrant are not entitled to certain Miranda-like warnings prior to questioning by immigration officers. In a precedent decision, the Board held that noncitizens need not be informed of their right to counsel or warned that their statements can be used against them until after they have been placed in formal deportation proceedings.

For decades, immigrants placed under arrest have been entitled to these critical advisals. Like “Miranda” warnings for criminal suspects, such notifications help to ensure that statements made during questioning are not the product of coercion. As a result of last week’s ruling, noncitizens under arrest will now be even more vulnerable to pressure from interrogating officers, and immigration judges will face greater difficulty determining whether statements made during questioning were truly voluntary.

“This decision epitomizes the substandard system of justice that’s been created and imposed on immigrants in the United States,” said Melissa Crow, Director of the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center. “The Board’s ruling renders the advisals practically meaningless and makes immigrants less likely to remain silent when questioned and less likely to assert their right to counsel.”

The Board of Immigration Appeals is the highest administrative tribunal on immigration and nationality matters in the United States. Decisions of the Board may be subject to review by federal courts or by the Attorney General. The ruling came in Matter of E-R-M-F- & A-S-M-, 25 I&N Dec. 580 (BIA 2011).

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08/10/11 | The Council Launches the 14th Annual Creative Writing Contest

The Community Education Center of the American Immigration Council has launched its 14th Annual Creative Writing Contest for "Why I'm Proud America is a Nation of Immigrants".  The contest which is run by local chapters of the American Immigration Lawyers Association has more than 5,000 entries from around the country annually.  The contest is open to fifth graders during the 2010-2011 school year. 

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