Last year, the administration unveiled a plan to prioritize which undocumented immigrants are targeted for deportation. In a series of directives, the administration told immigration officials to exercise their prosecutorial discretion in deciding which cases to pursue.
The effort was intended to focus resources on undocumented immigrants with criminal records while offering a measure of relief to immigrants who meet criteria including deep family ties to American citizens, having served in the military, or having arrived in the country as young children.
The repercussions of the new policy are twofold: it was intended to affect how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field agents decide which immigrants to target, and to shape how prosecutors and judges handle pending removal cases. Certain immigrants were eligible to have their planned deportations suspended, a move that would not confer legal status or work authorization.
But fewer than 2 percent of the more than 400,000 cases under review so far have been canceled, according to the New York Times report. That has frustrated immigrant advocates already disillusioned by the fact that President Obama has overseen a record number of deportations during his tenure, more than 1.1 million and counting. The prosecutorial discretion review was an effort to make good on the administration's contention that it was focused on immigrants who have criminal records or pose a threat to public safety.
According to Department of Homeland Security officials quoted by the Times, the deportation review has run into some bureaucratic hurdles. Officials must perform background checks to ensure immigrants do not have criminal records, a massive undertaking that is contributing to the glacial pace.
Immigration experts also say that the issue lies in the difficulty of universally enforcing a new policy. Prosecutorial discretion remains a guideline, not a legally binding regulation.
The key word here is discretion, Eleanor Pelta, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in an interview. We're seeing a refusal to close cases that clearly meet the criteria.