Immigration enforcement changes could shield 9.6M undocumented immigrants from deportation, report says

By Brenda Gazzar, Daily News, Los Angeles

July 24–Lesser-known changes in immigration enforcement announced by President Barack Obama in November could offer a “degree of protection” from deportation for up to 9.6 million of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, according to a new report by the Migration Policy Institute.

In contrast, the highly publicized deferred action programs known by the acronyms DAPA and expanded DACA, which have garnered most of the public’s attention and are on hold by a federal court, could grant temporary relief from deportation to as many as 5.2 million undocumented immigrants if implemented.

The Department of Homeland Security recently adopted new policy guidance that limits the scope of enforcement to a narrower set of priorities than earlier guidance and provides “clearer direction to DHS enforcement agents, officers and attorneys,” stated the report, titled “Understanding the Potential Impact of Executive Action on Immigration Enforcement.” The Secure Communities program, a controversial deportation program that relies on partnership among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, has also been replaced with one that is more narrowly focused. Both changes are included in the sweeping series of executive actions announced by Obama in November and have already begun to be implemented, according to the report.

“Overall, the new enforcement policies that are the focus of this report have the potential to substantially transform the U.S. deportation system, particularly within the U.S. interior,” the report states. “By taking the enforcement focus off settled unauthorized immigrants who do not meet the November 2014enforcement priorities, the new guidelines would, if strictly implemented, offer a degree of protection to the vast majority — 87 percent — of unauthorized immigrants now residing in the United States.”

The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank whose research has supported granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, estimates that these changes, if fully implemented, could reduce deportations from the interior of the country by about 25,000 cases annually.

About 1.4 million or 13 percent of undocumented immigrants in the country have previous criminal convictions or immigration histories that would make them enforcement priorities under the new policies, down from 3 million or 27 percent under the 2010 priorities issued by DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the report. These estimates have a margin of error of 10 percent.

How the new policies are implemented, however, will depend on the rollout and implementation of the new deportation program called Priority Enforcement Program or PEP, the report said. Like its predecessor Secure Communities, the program uses fingerprint data to identify potentially deportable noncitizens when the FBI performs criminal background checks for local police. ICE officials then issue an immigration detainer to request that police hold them for up to 48 hours after their criminal justice proceedings so they can be taken into custody and removal procedures can be initiated.

But unlike Secure Communities, the PEP program limits the use of ICE immigration detainers to those who have been convicted of a serious crime or are a public safety risk versus anyone encountered in the criminal justice system. Another difference is that Homeland Security will negotiate detainer policies with individual jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis.

“This change is significant because it may convince some of the hundreds of communities that have limited their compliance with ICE under Secure Communities to opt back into PEP,” the report stated.

Earlier this month, a woman named Kathryn Steinle was shot in San Francisco allegedly by an illegal immigrant who was released from police custody despite a detention request from federal authorities. And on Thursday, the House approved legislation penalizing so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities by blocking some federal funding. The legislation passed largely along party lines with a vote of 241-179.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for Federation for Immigration Reform, which supports overall reductions in immigration, said he agreed that the administrative changes outlined in the report will result in fewer deportations from the interior but argued it was a bad thing for the country.

“Essentially, the administration has been engaging in nullification of most immigration laws by simply ruling out the possibility of deporting 87 percent of people who are breaking immigration laws by executive inaction, granting de facto amnesty to people who are here illegally,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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