SAN DIEGO - The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued new written policies directing Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) officers, agents, and attorneys to use prosecutorial discretion to implement its priorities for immigration enforcement as well as reforms to the Secure Communities program.
Christopher Micheal spoke with American Immigration Lawers Association President Eleano Pelta:
The policy announcement came one day after ICE Director John Morton gave a keynote address to nearly 3000 members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) at the group’s annual conference in San Diego, CA.
“These are significant steps ICE has taken to clarify and advance its enforcement agenda. For the first time in a decade, the memo on prosecutorial discretion puts in a single document and in plain English the criteria ICE officers and trial attorneys should consider before initiating or pursuing enforcement actions,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. “The memo lists factors such as good behavior, ties to America, and other equities for enforcement officials to consider when deciding what course of action to take in a particular case. The memo helps put into effect DHS’s priorities so that it can better target law enforcement resources at those who would do us harm.” A second memo focused specifically on protecting victims and witnesses of crimes, including domestic violence was also released.
DHS also announced several reforms to address flaws in the Secure Communities program, which has drawn criticism from federal and local officials, law enforcement leaders, and other leading civic and community leaders.
Recognizing the gravity of these concerns, in May, AILA called upon DHS to suspend the program. The reforms announced today include the creation of an advisory committee on Secure Communities, a complaint process, and a promise of more transparency about the program. “The reforms set in motion today begin to address the serious concerns we have about Secure Communities, but whether the program should be continued in the long run will depend on how ICE ultimately moves forward.”
Although Secure Communities has been billed as a way to identify serious criminals who pose a threat to our communities, 60 percent of those deported under the program have never been convicted of a serious crime or any crime. AILA members have reported numerous cases of harmless individuals arrested for minor offenses like traffic violations and loitering who have been put indiscriminately in immigration proceedings.
“One purpose of the advisory board is to examine how DHS should handle individuals who are arrested for minor offenses. It is essential that DHS get that right. Harmless people who commit minor offenses should not be placed on a conveyor belt to deportation,” Pelta said.