Monday, April 30, 2012

Obama's semi-amnesty not always popular with illegals

The federal government last year vowed to review the country's 300,000 pending immigration court cases and exercise so-called prosecutorial discretion to shift its focus to those cases involving convicted criminals wreaking havoc on local neighborhoods. As of mid-April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had reviewed more than 70 percent of the files and decided to offer to temporarily suspend roughly 7.5 percent of deportation cases, agency officials said.

The agency declined to state how many of the 16,500 immigrants had accepted the deal.  So far, only 2,700 cases actually have been put on hold. In many instances, the process is pending paperwork and background checks, immigration officials said.

In December, ICE attorneys began reviewing their caseloads to see which immigrants should qualify for the program, which mainly consists of administrative closure _ an indefinite suspension of their cases but one that can be lifted at any time. Once the offers have been approved by a supervisor, attorneys have been reaching out to immigration attorneys or raising the issue directly with immigrants who lack lawyers in immigration court.

The government hopes to whittle down its caseload since the agency only has the manpower and resources to deport a finite number of immigrants. In the last fiscal year, ICE deported nearly 400,000 people, an all-time high for the agency.

"We need to get a handle on this exploded docket and figure out a way where ICE can prosecute the cases that really do warrant our resources and skills _ the bad guys," said Jim Stolley, ICE's director of Field Legal Operations.

For some immigrants, prosecutorial discretion is a lifeline. Immigrants waiting in line for a green card after being sponsored by relatives could use the extra time. Others, who may have lived here for years and have clean records but don't qualify for legal residency because they don't have American relatives, may have no other way to stay.

Concepcion Velazquez was sponsored for a green card by her American sister but must wait roughly two more years to get one. The 43-year-old from Fairfield in Northern California also has applied for a visa for crime victims who collaborate with law enforcement after a neighbor fired a gun into their living room.
Those are good prospects for being allowed to stay here, said Kevin Crabtree, her attorney. But Velazquez and her husband have no legal status today, which is why getting their case shelved by the government was such a relief.

"We're less anxious, not having to wait to go to court since we were always appearing in court," said Velazquez, who came here from Mexico more than two decades ago and wound up in deportation proceedings after an unscrupulous immigration attorney offered to get the couple legal papers and failed. "We're a little bit more relaxed in that sense, but we're still in the fight."

For other immigrants, however, getting an offer of prosecutorial discretion can be a double-edged sword. Some attorneys say they'd rather not even be approached by ICE because they'll be forced to choose between accepting a one-time offer to stave off deportation and seeking a more lasting solution in court such as asylum or a green card, both of which let an immigrant work here legally.

But turning down an offer of prosecutorial discretion also carries risks. Some immigration attorneys say they fear ICE attorneys might fight a case more vigorously if their client shuns an offer, or that immigration judges might apply more scrutiny to their clients' cases.

"A strong bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," said Angela Bean, an immigration attorney in Oakland, who has urged her clients to snap up the government's offer. "There is the issue of playing with fire."

It's still too soon to see whether the program will yield a significant improvement in the country's backlogged immigration courts, where it can take up to two years to get a hearing date.
On a recent morning in immigration court in downtown Los Angeles, several judges asked whether immigrants might be interested in seeking prosecutorial discretion. Some said they were eager for the opportunity, but not all _ such as a Mexican woman raising three American children on her own, two of them autistic, who opted to try her chances.

Government attorneys are still reviewing cases in most regions of the country.  Once immigrants are offered discretion, they must undergo background and national security checks before final approval.


Voters Understand the Immigration Debate; Politicians Don't>/b>

As the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with the Obama administration's challenge of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration, the overall issue of immigration remains misunderstood by both political parties in Washington.

Many Washington Republicans confuse voter opposition to illegal immigration with opposition to all immigration. Their remarks often contain an ugly tone toward those who want to come to America.

Many Washington Democrats confuse public respect for hardworking immigrants with a belief that borders and immigration laws don't matter. Their remarks often contain an ugly tone toward those who believe the nation's immigration laws should be enforced.

On the issues before the court, most voters tend to side with the state of Arizona rather than the federal government. Fifty-nine percent of voters nationwide, for example, agree with one of the law's most controversial provisions, that police officers should routinely check the immigration status of those they pull over for other violations. Most voters would like to have a law like Arizona's in their own state.

But that says more about voter respect for the law than it does about the immigration issue. Voters figure if there's a law on the books, the government should enforce it.

That's why, among voters who are angry about the immigration issue, 83 percent are angry at the federal government rather than the illegal immigrants themselves. It's also why two-thirds of voters think those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants are a bigger problem than the people they employ. Simply put, most Americans are angry at those who would entice others to break the law. They're not angry at people who are willing to work hard to provide for their families.

It's a little bit like the public desire to go after drug pushers rather than occasional users of illegal drugs.

Still, there's another reason for the disconnect between official Washington and the American people on immigration.

In Washington, the entire focus of the immigration debate is on how to deal with those already living here illegally. For voters, this is a secondary concern. The bigger concern is how to secure the border so future immigrants enter the county according to the rules. Routinely, in surveys for years, 60 percent or more of voters say securing the borders is a higher priority than legalizing the status of the illegal immigrants who are here now.

Once voters are convinced that illegal immigration is a thing of the past, it will be easier to address the status of those in the country already.

But voters don't believe the federal government has any interest in securing the border. In fact, most believe the policies of the federal government are designed to encourage illegal immigration. This offends voters who want to respect the rule of law. If immigration laws -- or any laws -- are routinely ignored, then the government loses credibility.

If the laws are enforced, 61 percent of voters favor a welcoming policy that lets anybody come to America except national security threats, criminals and those who would live off the U.S. welfare system. All who would like to work hard and pursue the American Dream are welcome.

The bottom line is that voters remember what many in Washington often forget: America is a nation of immigrants -- and of laws. The American people want both traditions to be honored.


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