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Deportation reviews raise some immigrants' hopes

Published on Sun, Aug 28, 2011

Hilda Jauregui and dozens of women at an Orange County immigration detention center recently gathered to hear the news on television that the Obama administration will review thousands of deportation cases with an eye closing those considered "low-priority."

FOR THE RECORD:

Deportation order: An article in the Aug. 29 LATExtra section about the Obama administration's plans to review 300,000 deportation cases was missing the word "toward" in the first paragraph. The paragraph should have said: Hilda Jauregui and dozens of women at an Orange County immigration detention center recently gathered to hear the news on television that the Obama administration will review thousands of deportation cases with an eye toward closing those considered "low-priority." Also, an earlier version of this online article stated that the Jauregui family had ignored a deportation order issued more than 10 years ago. The family actually appealed the order.

"Everyone was shouting and hugging each other," Jauregui said in a telephone interview from the James A. Musick jail facility last week. "One woman said 'I'll qualify because I'm older,' another said she had children who were born in the country. Everyone was trying to find something positive that would make them qualify."

U.S. Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano announced the review Aug. 18 as the administration was seeking to counter criticism that it has been too harsh in its deportation policies. The case-by-case review is intended to refocus efforts on felons and other public safety threats, officials said.

Now immigrants around the country are trying to find out how the review of nearly 300,000 deportation cases will actually work. The administration has said it would try to identify immigrants considered low-priority — including students, the elderly, victims of crime and people who have lived in the U.S. since childhood.

Many immigrants expressed hope that their cases would qualify, but immigration attorneys and advocates urged caution until more details are known. Meanwhile, a U.S. Homeland Security official last week offered some additional information about the review process.

A working group made up of at least 20 Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Justice employees will review the cases with help from field offices around the country, said the official, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to talk publicly about the process. About half of the group will consist of attorneys; the remainder will be operational officials and representatives from Homeland Security's policy and civil rights offices.

Individuals will not be able to appeal the group's decisions about whether cases are classified as high priority or low priority and will have to rely on already established court processes for any kind of appeal, the official said.

Those whose cases are closed will be able to apply for work permits based on an existing regulation that allows those granted deferred action to apply for permits if they establish economic necessity, the official said.

Melissa Crow, director of the Legal Action Center, an immigrant rights advocacy group, and a former Homeland Security official, urged caution and patience until more is known about the review process.

"We're not yet sure how the agency's commitment will play out in practice," she said. "In an ideal world, the government would thoroughly review every single one of these 300,000 pending cases and where necessary seek additional information from individuals or from their lawyers to make a solid determination about whether cases are low priority or high priority."

Published in the Los Angeles Times | Read Article