Immigration Court Backlog Rises; Obama Administration Instructs DHS to Focus on Terrorists, Serious Criminals and National Security Threats

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Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) still insist that their enforcement priorities are terrorists, serious criminals, and persons who pose a threat to national security. But the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports that this claim is misleading. The number of removal cases pending before the Immigration Courts continues to rise, reaching a total of 285,526 at the end of July 2011. This represents an all-time high and a rise of 3.7 percent from three months ago. Only 8.3 percent of the pending cases involved foreign nationals charged with aiding terrorism, criminal activities, and actions adverse to national security. This portion has fallen by 9.1 percent during the last 10 months. Meanwhile, those charged with purely immigration violations made up 90 percent of the cases, with the total number rising from 1.2 million before 9/11 to 1.9 million post-9/11.

To help ease the rising backlog in Immigration Courts, the Obama Administration recently announced that it would aggressively pursue “high priority cases” while focusing less on “low priority cases.” This policy is not an Amnesty Program, is not a deferral of removal program for those who might quality for benefits of the DREAM Act (if passed), and is not an abandonment of U.S. immigration laws. It does not confer any lawful status to the millions of undocumented immigrants present in the United States. It does, however, provide additional guidance to DHS in exercising prosecutorial discretion to ensure that limited resources are spent on the agency’s enforcement priorities.

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