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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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08/03/11 | Another Court Upholds Immigrants' Right to Pursue Case From Outside the U.S.

Washington, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit joined the growing list of courts to reject the government’s attempt to bar noncitizens from seeking reopening or reconsideration of their cases from outside the United States. The American Immigration Council's Legal Action Center and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, which filed a joint amicus brief in the case and argued before the court, applaud the court’s ruling. “The court’s decision is yet another step in protecting the important safeguards that Congress put in place to help ensure that noncitizens are not unlawfully separated from their families,” said Beth Werlin of the Legal Action Center.

The Legal Action Center and the National Immigration Project have coordinated litigation on this issue nationwide and call on the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to abandon its misguided regulation barring review of motions filed by noncitizens outside the United States.  To date, six courts of appeals have rejected the departure bar.  And just this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the only court with a decision at odds with the majority, granted rehearing en banc to address the validity of the departure bar.  “The writing is on the wall.  It’s past time for the government to stop cutting off access to the BIA and immigration courts by defending this clearly unlawful regulation,” said Trina Realmuto of the National Immigration Project.

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08/02/11 | American Immigration Council Applauds DOJ for Responding to Alabama’s Punitive Anti-Immigrant Law

Washington, D.C. – On Monday, the Department of Justice filed suit against the state of Alabama to block the implementation of HB 56, which is set to take effect September 1. HB 56 is similar to but far more punitive than Arizona’s SB 1070. The law includes provisions that require local school districts to check and report on the immigration status of all children enrolling in public schools. It also transforms local police into federal immigration officers, and creates criminal consequences for anyone who provides housing, transportation, or employment to undocumented immigrants.

Alabama is the second state, after Arizona, that the Department of Justice has sued for overstepping its authority to regulate immigration. Lawsuits have also been filed in Utah, Indiana and Georgia by immigrant rights and civil liberties groups. So far, the courts have prevented each state from implementing the central provisions of their anti-immigrant laws. In truth, all these laws have done is inflict long-lasting damage to these states’ reputations, businesses, and budgets.

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07/25/11 | LAC Urges Eighth Circuit to Reject Departure Bar to Review

Washington, D.C.— The Legal Action Center, along with the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), filed an amicus brief last week urging the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the departure bar, a regulation that bars the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) from reviewing cases after a person has left the United States. In this case, Macharia v. Holder, No. 11-1962, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deported the person while his appeal of an immigration judge’s denial of a motion to reopen his case was still pending. By applying the departure bar, the Board of Immigration Appeals permitted DHS, a party to the case, to exert unilateral control over the litigation. This impermissibly interferes with the respondent’s statutory right to seek administrative and judicial review and to pursue reopening.

The Legal Action Center and NIPNLG have coordinated litigation on issues related to post departure review and adjudication of BIA cases nationwide. Read more about the LAC and NIPNLG’s efforts on the LAC’s website. To date, five circuit courts have found the motion to reopen departure regulation unlawful.
For inquiries contact Brian Yourish at byourish@immcouncil.org.

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07/25/11 | Dissecting the HALT Act: Last Safety Valves in Immigration System Under Attack

Washington D.C. - Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement will hold a hearing on the “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act” (HALT Act), a bill that would suspend discretionary forms of immigration relief until January 21, 2013—the day after the next Presidential inauguration. 

Today, the Immigration Policy Center held a briefing to describe how the HALT Act systematically attacks many of the discretionary forms of relief available to immigrants. Immigration policy experts described the implications of limiting the Administration’s discretion in prosecuting immigration cases, as well as the impetus behind the bill. 

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

“The HALT Act seeks to disable or suspend a number of immigration provisions that provide any discretionary relief to immigrants in order to chastise the Administration for a series of policy memos that contemplate using executive branch authority to improve current laws. Its authors seek to discourage the Administration from interpreting the law in ways that are more streamlined or benefit more individuals.” 

Beth Werlin, Deputy Director of the Legal Action Center, further explained:

“By taking away the power to grant deferred action, the HALT Act is basically interfering with the Administration’s ability to prioritize its removal cases and focus its resources on serious criminals and those who pose a true security risk.”

Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, commented on the impetus behind the bill:

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