Local Immigration Officials Given Wide Latitude to Dismiss Illegal Immigration Deportation Cases, Including For Those Involving Violent Crimes
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Obama Department of Homeland Security (DHS) showing that DHS officials misled Congress and the public about the scope of an immigration enforcement policy change that gave wide latitude to local immigration officials to dismiss illegal alien deportation cases. According to the documents, obtained pursuant to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, immigration officials sought the dismissal of charges against a wide range of illegal alien criminals, including those convicted of violent crimes, despite claims by the Obama administration to the contrary.
The documents concern the response by Houston immigration officials to a June 30, 2010, memo from John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to all ICE employees instructing local immigration officials to use their discretion in “prioritizing” illegal immigration deportation cases. This new policy resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of immigration cases and an overall 40% increase in deportation dismissals with the City of Houston taking a particularly aggressive approach to the policy’s implementation.
In response to calls by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more information regarding this new deportation policy, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said, “The idea that DHS is engaged in ‘selective enforcement’ couldn’t be further from the truth.” However, the documents uncovered by Judicial Watch show that Houston immigration officials moved quickly to implement a broad interpretation of Morton’s memo, earning praise from ICE agency headquarters:
- Email from Gary Goldman, Chief Counsel for Houston ICE to Riah Ramlogan, ICE’s Director of Field Operations, August 6, 2010:
I was uncertain whether to write you this short note but I am comfortable in doing so.
In brief, I will push every policy that was disseminated to the Chief Counsels to my staff…effectively and quickly. I understand the responsibilities of my position and I take great pride in my work. I will…ensure each attorney is fully knowledgeable and compliant with policies regarding courtroom expectations, written work, humanitarian cases, reporting requirements, etc.
(Ramlogan’s response to Goldman’s efforts, August 10, 2010: “Outstanding, Gary.”)
- Memo from Goldman to all attorneys, Office of Chief Counsel, August 12, 2010 (ultimately rescinded per the instruction of ICE headquarters):
Beginning immediately on all duty files and court files every attorney must determine whether the case may be amenable to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion pursuant to guidelines outlined in the June 30, 2010 Assistant Secretary John Morton memorandum…If the crime is remote in time and the alien has a substantial number of equities, all factors will be weighed to determine if an exercise of PD [prosecutorial discretion] is appropriate.
- Memo from Goldman to all attorneys, Office of Chief Counsel, August 16, 2010 (ultimately rescinded per the instruction of ICE headquarters):
ICE Senior Leadership does not want their attorneys to merely fill a seat in immigration court and blindly prosecute every case handed to them. The current administration wants attorneys of greater sophistication, independence and complexity in decision making…
Moreover, despite the claims of immigration officials, ICE attorneys sought to block deportation proceeding for illegal aliens with violent crime offenses. A spreadsheet obtained by Judicial Watch lists the specific violent crimes that immigration officials were prepared to overlook. They include: sexual assault, solicitation of murder, aggravated assault, assaulting a police officer, and kidnapping, as well as numerous drug charges.
Following the press coverage of the memo, which resulted in widespread outrage, immigration officials sought to contain the damage by narrowing the scope of the policy change:
- An email from Raphael Choi, Chief Counsel for Arlington ICE to Gary Goldman, August 18, 2010:
…in-house I’m way behind. We continue to review cases piecemeal. The problem is every time I’m about to wield a blunt instrument to our docket, some case shows up in the press that gives me pause. I think its given Riah pause too.
- Letter from Ramlogan to Goldman on the day the Houston Chronicle exposed the new policy on deportations, August 25, 2010:
I am concerned that your interpretation of the memorandum, although well-intentioned, could create a gap in basic immigration enforcement. Your approach that our attorneys should only litigate cases within the agency’s highest priorities is not an accurate interpretation of the Assistant Secretary’s guidance and is not consistent with agency policy…please immediately rescind your memoranda.
(Note: Ramlogan had been provided a copy of Goldman’s memo on August 10, 2010 but provided no comment until the day the Houston Chronicle story was published.)
On June 17, 2011, John Morton sent another memo to all field officers, special agents and to the chief counsel further defining the term “prosecutorial discretion.” “In basic terms, prosecutorial discretion is the authority of an agency charged with enforcing a law to decide to what degree to enforce the law against a particular individual,” Morton writes. Critics point out that this is precisely the type of “selective enforcement” the DHS has denied fostering with its new deportation policy.
“These documents show that the Obama administration is implementing ‘stealth amnesty,’ which is an end-run around the rule of law and Congress.” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama administration doesn’t seem to care about its constitutional responsibility to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ by pushing the selective enforcement of immigration laws. And they are thumbing their noses at Congress and the American people by stonewalling information requests and lying to cover up their stealth amnesty scheme. Congress should initiate a full investigation to get to the truth of the matter. The lawlessness must stop.”
(Source: Judicial Watch )
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Washington, DC — July 7, 2011