A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Sets Enforcement Priorities

A recent memorandum of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, places strong emphasis on the deportation of foreign nationals who are the subject of a final order of deportation. The December 8, 2009, memorandum, authored by Mr. John Morton, ICE Assistant Secretary, makes it clear that the agency’s core mission is the apprehension and removal of fugitive aliens. This memorandum sets up the agency’s priorities, goals, and expectations in terms of enforcement efforts and use of resources when dealing with these individuals.

“…[S]ound administration of the nation's immigration system depends on an efficient, fair, and meaningful removal process. As a result, it is the clear policy of this agency that final orders of removal should be enforced and that those who knowingly disobey or evade a final order of removal should be apprehended and removed,” according to the Assistant Secretary.

The ICE memorandum divides up enforcement efforts into three tiers as follows: Tier I Fugitive aliens (with final deportation orders). Tier 2 Previously removed aliens. Tier 3 Removable aliens convicted of crimes. Within each tier, individuals who post a threat to national security are given the highest priority, followed by foreigners who have been convicted of violent crimes or who otherwise pose a threat to the community.

Furthermore, when dealing with non-criminal deportable individuals, ICE officers are to consider other factors such as absentia orders and pending applications for relief before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Generally speaking foreigners who may have a chance of successfully reopening their cases and submitting relief applications from deportation are to be given lower priority unless there exists other aggravating circumstances. On the other hand, the most recently issued final orders of deportation and cases with the most investigative leads will be given higher priorities. ICE agents are encouraged to expeditiously act on current, time-sensitive leads to increase the chances of apprehension.

Although these tiers and levels provide some basic guidance to the agency, the Assistant Secretary emphasizes that they should not be applied “so rigidly as to undermine sound judgment when exceptions are warranted by circumstance.” This remark suggests that the field officers may and can use their discretion in individual cases.

ICE officers will also receive Constitution Law training every six months which will focus on the special issues and considerations involved when ICE officers are making arrests at personal residences. It should be noted that, during an enforcement operation, if other deportable aliens who are not targets of the operation are encountered by ICE officers, they will also be placed in removal proceedings.

Most of the deportable aliens will be detained if they are apprehended. Congress passed laws to make it mandatory to detain individuals with final orders of removal. However, those who are physically or mentally ill, disabled, elderly, pregnant, nursing, or the sole caretaker(s) of children or the infants are not subject to detention unless there exists other aggravating circumstances.

Although the number of apprehensions and removal will be tallied and recorded, the Assistant Secretary has emphasized that quotas will not be imposed on the field officers so as to increase the apprehension and removal of non-criminal aliens. Criminal aliens here refer to individuals who actually committed a crime or crimes but not those who became fugitives by virtue of their immigration status.

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