Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, North America

U.S.: Courts Throw Out a Third of Deportation Cases

NEW YORK, Nov 19 2010 (IPS) - While U.S. immigration authorities are “understandably eager to trumpet the overall number” of people they deport, close to one in three deportations recommended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is being rejected by immigration courts, according to an analysis of case-by-case government data.

During the last three months of FY 2010, the rejection rate of ICE requests for deportation was 31 percent. This turndown rate is up from what it was – one out of every four – 12 months earlier.

For all of FY 2010, some courts turned down ICE removal requests more than half of the time. Among them were the immigration courts in New York City (70 percent turned down), Oregon (63 percent turned down), Los Angeles (63 percent turned down), Miami (59 percent turned down) and Philadelphia (55 percent turned down).

In criminal prosecutions, the typical conviction rate in recent years for immigration cases is 96 percent.

These findings are based on analysis of recent information obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearing House at Syracuse University (TRAC) under the Freedom of Information Act.

Attorney Alison Parker, who directs the U.S. domestic civil rights programme for Human Rights Watch, told IPS, “ICE is under huge pressure to show that it is deporting the undocumented. As a result it is casting its net far too wide.”

“Secondly, the current law allows ICE to go after everyone – from turnstile-jumpers to serial killers. There are far too many turnstile-jumpers being deported,” she said. “ICE should concentrate its resources on people who have committed serious crimes.”

The analysis shows that in the fiscal year 2006-2010 period, unsuccessful ICE filings affected almost a quarter of a million individuals (246,721) who were not subject to deportation because they were entitled to reside in the United States. The count is even higher (313,244), however, if all other reasons given by the judges for not granting ICE removals and deportation are counted.

Lena Graber of the National Immigration Forum agrees that the TRAC analysis shows that ICE “pursues targets indiscriminately”.

“The growth in cases dismissed for having ‘no grounds for removal’ – from under five percent a few years ago to nearly 12 percent in 2010 – demonstrates that ICE is pursuing removal against people who should not be forced to go through proceedings at all,” she told IPS.

Graber pointed out that most dismissals occur in urban areas with large immigrant populations. “This is likely because the vast majority of people in removal proceedings are not represented by an attorney, but those in urban areas with large immigrant populations are the most likely to have access to immigration attorneys and particularly immigrant defense organisations and pro bono networks,” she said.

“This underscores the injustice of having most of our immigration detention centers in remote rural areas in the south, far from access to legal representation,” she added.

ICE has refused to release more detailed data to better explain the growing rejection rates and the possible reasons behind these shifts.

But TRAC suggests that one reason may be the “growing pressures to increase the volume of illegal immigrants the agency catches and removes from the country.” The Barack Obama administration has announced new priorities targeting aliens with particularly serious criminal records.

Other studies have shown that a large proportion of those deported to not have such criminal records, and in fact have been arrested for petty crimes and traffic violations. ICE has also focused increasing resources on new initiatives such as Secure Communities while de-emphasising large scale raids on businesses.

According to HRW’s Parker, ICE’s new priorities “have yet to be transformed into action”. She suggested that reform at ICE “requires a cultural change” from ICE’s predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS).

TRAC’s findings are based upon a detailed analysis of 3.4 million records covering each proceeding filed in the immigration courts for fiscal years 1998 through 2010.

During this past year, there has been little change in the makeup of judges serving on the court.

TRAC found that larger immigration courts regardless of the region of the country were seeing an increase in the rejection rates on ICE removal actions. The three courts that disposed of the largest number of cases during FY 2010 were in Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

TRAC concludes that “poor targeting that weakens the government is inefficient. In addition, however, poor targeting imposes real personal and financial burdens on the individuals who have been wrongfully selected for removal. It is unfair.”

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