Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump Emphasizes Enforcement Priorities; Prosecutorial Discretion Remains Intact

U.S. President Donald Trump did not appear to curb the authority of immigration officials to engage in prosecutorial discretion when he signed an executive order on immigration policy and internal security on January 25, 2017.  This observation was supported by morning proceedings before the Arlington Immigration Court on January 26, 2017.  An attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) stated in open court that her agency had received no instructions not to accept applications for prosecutorial discretion.  Accordingly, in a number of cases, Immigration Judge Thomas Snow granted continuances to permit immigration attorneys to submit prosecutorial discretion requests to ICE on behalf of their clients.

The process of exercising prosecutorial discretion to administratively close removal cases pending in Immigration Court which were not high enforcement priorities was first instituted by President Barrack Obama in 2011.  President Obama noted the limited resources available to enforce U.S. immigration law, and instructed immigration authorities to concentrate those resources on certain priority cases.  Those priorities included aliens with a criminal history, who pose a threat to public safety or national security, and who recently violated immigration law by entering without inspection by a Customs authority. 

In a memorandum dated June 17, 2011, ICE Director John Morton formalized the policy of exercising prosecutorial discretion.  Morton listed numerous factors for immigration authorities to weigh, including the length of the alien’s presence in the United States, the circumstances of the alien’s arrival, the alien’s ties to the United States, such as education, family members and contributions to the community, and other humanitarian concerns such as the health of the alien or the alien’s U.S. relatives.  By exercising prosecutorial discretion in appropriate cases, ICE would agree to administratively close a pending removal case, essentially permitting an alien who was present in the United States in violation of immigration law to remain.

President Trump's executive order is entitled "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States."  In the opening paragraph, President Trump emphasizes the importance of enforcing U.S. immigration law in the interior of the country, to safeguard national security and public safety.  The President outlines his enforcement priorities to include alien who: (a)  Have been convicted of any criminal offense; (b)  Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;  (c)  Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; (d)  Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; (e)  Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; (f)  Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or (g)  In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security. These priorities are similar to those of the Obama Administration.

The President did not specifically mention prosecutorial discretion or the June 17, 2011 memorandum in his executive order.  However, the outlining of enforcement priorities lends credence to the conclusion that the ability of immigration authorities to exercise prosecutorial discretion remains in effect.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
For an appointment, call (703) 837-8832
(571) 551-6069 (ESP)

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