AILA Calls DHS Prioritization Plan Strong Step Forward for Immigration Enforcement

Thursday, August 18, 2011

George Tzamaras or Jenny Werwa
202-507-7649 / 202-507-7628 /

WASHINGTON, DC -- The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) applauds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for today’s announcement establishing a high-level committee to ensure implementation of its enforcement priorities and to relieve pressure on an already overburdened immigration court system. Consistent with DHS priorities, the committee will review approximately 300,000 cases currently pending before the immigration court and develop department-wide guidance to emphasize high-priority matters, such as those convicted of serious crimes or posing a risk to national security. Those cases involving low-priority individuals caught up in removal proceedings would be eligible for prosecutorial discretion, on a case-by-case basis. DHS has been under fire in recent months for deporting tens of thousands of low-priority immigrants and those with deep ties to this country.

“This is an encouraging announcement,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. “For months, AILA has been talking about the need for smart, targeted enforcement. DHS should focus its limited resources on prosecuting those who are a danger to our communities or would do our nation harm, not wasting taxpayer money going after longtime residents, spouses of U.S. veterans, students, the elderly, and others with deep ties to our communities,” added Pelta.

Although DHS has long maintained that its enforcement policies, including the much criticized Secure Communities program, target threats to public safety and national security, nearly 60 percent of individuals deported under the program have convictions for only minor offenses or no offense at all. Yesterday, AILA issued a report highlighting 127 cases of people arrested for minor crimes or no offense at all who were placed into removal proceedings. Many also had U.S. citizen spouses or children, longtime residence in the U.S., or other compelling circumstances. The report faulted DHS for failing to have sufficient means to ensure that such individuals are not placed on a virtual conveyor belt to deportation.

Pelta went on to say, “We applaud DHS for recognizing that much more needs to be done to ensure that enforcement resources are targeting those who would do us harm, and not students, mothers, churchgoers, and taxpayers. If the committee embraces the true spirit of this announcement, we could begin to see some much needed change to DHS enforcement practices.”

In June, ICE released a comprehensive prosecutorial discretion memo meant to refine its field operations, also an effort to better prioritize its resources. Pelta concluded, “We have seen mixed results from the ICE prosecutorial discretion memo. In places where it’s actually being implemented, we have seen some great results. However, in many other locations, it’s business as usual. The success of the new initiative will depend on the details—the shape the reforms ultimately take and how it is handled by all agents and officers in the field.”


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 11081809.