Admin. to Reduce Deportation of Undocumented Immigrants

By Marcus Stern, ProPublica reporter

The Obama administration has changed the nation's immigration enforcement strategy in ways that will reduce the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants and will likely blunt the impact of any state laws designed to deport vast numbers of people.

The changes are the little-discussed byproducts of the administration's well-publicized decision to focus its deportation efforts on immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

To remove the "worst of the worst," the administration reasons, it can't allow the nation's immigration courts and detention centers to remain clogged with generally law-abiding immigrants who have lived in the country for a long time and probably would be legalized under comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The administration's strategy has been revealed in recent months through internal memos, testimony and new guidelines that direct deportation officers to generally refrain from deporting certain groups of immigrants.

  • In a June 30 memo (PDF), John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stressed the new priorities to his officers around the country: Use the agency's limited resources to find and deport immigrants who have committed serious crimes rather than scoop up longtime undocumented immigrants who haven't.
  • On July 1, ICE's executive associate director of management, Daniel Ragsdale, testified in the administration's lawsuit against Arizona's immigration law that ICE officers have been told to "exercise discretion" when deciding whether to detain "long-time lawful permanent residents, juveniles, the immediate family members of U.S. citizens, veterans, members of the armed forces and their families, and others with illnesses or special circumstances." (p.11)