Houston immigration judges are throwing out an unprecedented number of cases after an internal review of the city’s immigration court docket, the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday. That means many non-criminal illegal immigrants are more likely to be released: About 200 immigration cases have been dismissed per month since the review began, up from an average of 38 per month. The policy change, which ICE officials have avoided discussing, seems to be an attempt to deal with large backlogs in the immigration courts, which are already scheduling hearings into 2012.
Why are some cases dismissed? The answers differ: Although ICE claims only cases involving pending petitions for illegal immigrants by U.S. citizens would be considered, others claim the guidelines are more broad. Raed Gonzalez, liaison for the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Chronicle judges were given authority to dismiss immigration cases for a number of other reasons:
Government attorneys in Houston were instructed to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis for illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least two years and have no serious criminal history, Gonzalez said.
To qualify for dismissal, defendants also must have no felony record or any misdemeanor convictions involving DWI, sex crimes or domestic violence, he said. [...]
By moving to dismiss cases for people who have stayed out of trouble, the agency will be better able to use its limited resources to more rapidly deport those with serious criminal records, supporters said.
On the other side, though, supporters of tougher immigration enforcement have claimed the review is an effort at backdoor amnesty by the Obama administration. It’s an argument many anti-illegal immigration groups have made before, but it is worth noting that despite dismissals, deportation is still on the rise under the administration.