Why Is The U.S. Immigration Court So Totally Screwed Up? — Sure, Bad Laws & Inadequate Resources Are Endemic Problems — But, Trying To Run A Due Process Court System As An Agency Of A Political Department Which Is Clueless About Effective Judicial Administration Is The Overriding Reason This System Is “Built To Fail!”

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/06/08/immigration-courts-backlog/

Tory Johnson writes in Immigration Impact:

“Anyone familiar with the immigration system knows that the immigration courts have an enormous backlog which has persisted—and grown—for more than a decade. As of April 2017, the immigration court backlog topped 585,930 cases, more than double the pending cases in fiscal year (FY) 2006 (212,000).

The immigration court backlog means that many people wait years to have their cases resolved. According to a June 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the average time a case remains pending with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—the office within the Department of Justice that adjudicates immigration cases—has increased. In FY 2006, cases took an average of 198 days to complete; now the average is 650 days.

For years government officials, external stakeholders, and others have attributed the growing backlog to staffing shortages, lack of resources, and changing priorities. GAO’s recent analysis affirms some of these problems, but found that average case completion times increased—from 43 days in FY 2006 to 286 days in FY 2015—even though the number of immigration judges increased by 17 percent in the last decade.

So what’s making cases take longer in immigration court, and contributing to the backlog?

In part, judges are taking more time to complete cases, especially as new hires get up to speed. Respondents to GAO’s investigation most commonly cited a lack of adequate staff as a cause of the backlog, but “immigration judges from five of the six courts [GAO] contacted also stated that they do not have sufficient time to conduct administrative tasks, such as case-related legal research or staying updated on changes to immigration law.”

Indeed, over the 10-year period, judges issued 54 percent more case continuances, or a temporary postponement of case proceedings, on their own volition—due to unplanned leave or insufficient time to complete a hearing, for example. Immigration judges may also grant a continuance to allow respondents time to obtain legal representation— since immigrants do not receive government-provided counsel— which demonstrably shortens the length of a case.

There is concern that the backlog may only worsen under the current administration. In order to carry out President Trump’s directives to ramp up immigration enforcement and deportations, the Justice Department has started relocating immigration judges. But transferring judges—many of whom have been reassigned to detention centers—for the purpose of speeding up immigration cases has alarmed immigration experts, who fear case delays will increase in immigration judges’ usual courts, adding to the backlog.

While the directives were not analyzed in GAO’s review, the report’s focus on systemic issues exacerbating the backlog makes the plans to shuffle judges to new courts all the more concerning.

GAO made 11 recommendations in the following areas that would “better position EOIR to address its case backlog and help improve the agency’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out its important mission.” The recommendations included implementing better workplace planning and hiring practices; building an electronic filing system with oversight and management mechanisms; video-teleconferencing (VTC) assessments to ensure neutral outcomes; and creating efficient management practices and comprehensive performance measures for all cases.

While some of these issues are being addressed—such as implementing a plan to streamline hiring—GAO found that the efforts EOIR cited do not fully address the concerns outlined in the report. In particular, EOIR is lacking comprehensive technological capabilities, data on VTC hearings, performance assessments, and short- and long-term plans for staffing needs created by the 39 percent of retirement-eligible immigration judges.

The shortcomings further demonstrate the GAO’s conclusion that EOIR is lacking critical management, accountability, and performance evaluation systems. These mechanisms are essential for EOIR and oversight bodies, such as Congress, to accurately assess the immigration courts and ensure that EOIR is achieving its mission, which includes timely adjudication of all cases.

EOIR should take the GAO’s recommendations seriously and work to implement solutions—the fates of hundreds of thousands of people literally depend on it.”

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Sadly, the necessary changes are way beyond the capability of EOIR and the DOJ, particularly in light of current political leadership in the DOJ which seems determined to run the courts into the ground with ill-advised maximum enforcement initiatives and “aimless docket reshuffling.” EOIR has been an agency within the DOJ since 1983. It actually performs measurably worse today than it did in 2000. Expecting a “turnaround” within the DOJ is like expecting the Tooth Fairy to solve this problem.

You can check out my previous blog on the GAO report here:

http://immigrationcourtside.com/2017/06/02/gao-report-recommends-improvements-in-u-s-immigration-court-hiring-technology-data-analysis-oversight/

Note that the GAO discusses independent structures for the U.S. Immigration Court, but does not include a particular recommendation on that point.

But, I have one! We need an independent United States Immigration Court now! Otherwise the Immigration Court’s “due process meltdown” is eventually going to paralyze a large segment of the U.S. justice system. Yes, folks, it’s that bad! Maybe even worse, since DOJ and EOIR are “circling the wagons” to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. Tell your legislative representatives that we need an independent court now!

PWS

06-14-17

 

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: More Commentary On How The U.S. Immigration Court In Atlanta Mocks The Due Process Mission of EOIR

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/03/10/atlanta-immigration-court/

Hilda Bonilla writes:

“Observers found that the immigration judges made prejudicial statements, demonstrated a lack of courtesy and professionalism and expressed significant disinterest toward respondents. In one hearing, an attorney argued that his client should be released from detention because he was neither a threat to society nor a flight risk. In rejecting the client’s bond request, the immigration judge reportedly compared an immigrant to a “person coming to your home in a Halloween mask, waving a knife dripping with blood” and asked the attorney if he would let him in.

When the attorney disagreed with this comparison, the immigration judge responded that the “individuals before [him] were economic migrants and that they do not pay taxes.” Another immigration judge reportedly “leaned back in his chair, placed his head in his hands, and closed his eyes” for 23 minutes while the respondent described the murder of her parents and siblings during an asylum hearing.

Other critical problems include disregard for legal arguments, frequent cancellation of hearings at the last minute, lack of individualized consideration of bond requests, and inadequate interpretation services for respondents who do not speak English. The observers also reported that immigration judges often refer to detention centers as “jails” and detainees as “prisoners,” undermining their dignity and humanity and suggesting that the IJs perceive detained immigrants as criminals. Compounding this problem, detained immigrants who appear in immigration court in Atlanta are required to wear jumpsuits and shackles.

Many of these practices stand in stark contrast with the Executive Office of Immigration Reviews’ Ethics and Professionalism Guide for Immigration Judges, which state, among other things, that “an immigration judge… should not, in the performance of official duties, by word or conduct, manifest improper bias or prejudice” and that immigration judge should be “patient, dignified, and courteous, and should act in a professional manner towards all litigants, witnesses, lawyers, and other with whom the immigration judge deals in his or her capacity.”

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“[P]atient, dignified, courteous, . . . professional,” unfortunately does not describe the judges of the U.S. Immigration Court in Atlanta as portrayed in this study and numerous articles from various sources. As I have pointed out before, although the BIA finally did “call out” one Immigration Judge in Atlanta for his outrageous disregard of due process and appropriate judicial conduct in Matter of Y-S-L-C-, 26 I&N Dec. 688 (BIA 2015) (denial of due process where IJ tried to bar the testimony of minor respondent by disqualifying him as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence), the BIA has let this problem fester for far, far too long. Indeed, the indefensible 2% asylum grant rate suggests that the BIA has been derelict in its duty to insure due process, fairness, and compliance with the appropriate, generous legal standards in asylum cases for some time.

Without a more effective effort by the BIA, this problem is unlikely to be solved any time in the near future. While administrative judges at EOIR Headquarters in Falls Church, VA may investigate complaints and correct instances of unprofessional conduct and rudeness, they (quite properly) lack authority to change the decisions in particular cases. Only the BIA, the Attorney General, the Court of Appeals (in this case the 11th Circuit), or the Supreme Court can correct legal errors.

The conduct of the Immigration Judges in Atlanta and some other locations diminishes the efforts of the vast majority of U.S. Immigration Judges, such as my former colleagues in the Arlington Immigration Court, who strive extremely hard to provide due process and impartial judging under extraordinarily difficult circumstances in a system that its not necessarily designed and operated with due process in mind. But, unfair as as the wayward judges might be to their colleagues elsewhere, the real victims of their unprofessional conduct are the individuals who do not receive the fair, courteous, impartial, professional due process adjudications to which they are entitled under our Constitution. And, one has to ask what purpose is served by a “court” which consistently fails to deliver on its one and only mission: guaranteeing fairness and due process for all?

PWS

03/13/17

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: Katie Shepard Explains How New USCIS Lesson Plans Are Likely To Harm Asylum Seekers!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/28/changes-may-keep-asylum-seekers-getting-day-court/

“Effective February 27, 2017, new changes to the asylum screening process could lead to an increased number of deportations of asylum-seekers who fear persecution upon return to their home country.

On February 13, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its Asylum Division Officer Training Course (ADOTC) lesson plans on how to assess an asylum seeker’s credible and reasonable fear of persecution or torture. The lesson plans were revised to be consistent with the January 25, 2017 Executive Order on border security and immigration enforcement and provide guidelines to the asylum officers when conducting credible fear interviews (for those at the border or port of entry who were never previously deported) and reasonable fear interviews (for those who were previously order deported but who later seek asylum).

The changes to the lesson plans are significant and may cause the denial rate to skyrocket, in which case thousands of asylum seekers would be wrongfully denied a meaningful day in court . Not only does the new guidance provide asylum officers with greater discretion to deny an applicant for reasons which may be out of the applicant’s control, but the applicant will essentially be forced to undergo a full asylum hearing with none of the safeguards in place to ensure a meaningful opportunity to present a claim for relief.”

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Read Katie’s complete analysis at the link. You should also look at Dree Collopy’s short video on the changes which I previously posted.

http://wp.me/p8eeJm-qx

If this carries over into Immigration Court where unsuccessful applicants can seek “expedited review,” it would mean that “credible fear reviews” could become more time consuming.

I was usually able to complete them in a few minutes using the Asylum Officer’s notes and asking a few questions. I found that the overwhelming number of those denied had “credible fear,” and probably at least half of those cases eventually resulted in relief. However, over the last year of my career I was primarily on the non-detained docket, so I only did “credible fears” when I was on detail to a detention center or the system was backed up.

As an Immigration Judge, I did not use the USCIS lesson plans. But, I did rely on the Asylum Officer’s notes for a basic understanding of the claim. I then usually asked a few questions to verify that the notes accurately reflected the claim and that nothing relevant had been omitted.

 

PWS

03/03/17

 

Michele Waslin, Immigration Impact: Trump Administration Ditches “Common Sense Priorities” In Adopting a Max Enforcement Program!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/02/15/trump-immigration-enforcement-policies/

“The Trump administration is quickly unraveling the last administration’s efforts to prioritize those for deportation who pose a serious threat over those who don’t. The new administration is ignoring priorities that were put into place by the Obama Administration as a way to manage limited law enforcement resources. The priorities recognized that there is a finite budget available for immigration enforcement, thus making prioritization important. The approach now being pursued by the Trump Administration casts a wide net and will result in an aggressive and unforgiving approach to immigration enforcement moving forward.

The most significant indications of this shift came through the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S.” executive order, issued January 25, 2017, which prioritizes for deportation those noncitizens who:

Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
Have been charged with any criminal offense;
Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a government agency;
Have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits;
Are subject to a final order of removal but have not departed;
Otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
In addition, unauthorized immigrants with no criminal history will likely fit under the third bullet because entering without inspection is a chargeable criminal offense (illegal entry or re-entry). And since the executive order states that many immigrants without immigration status or who overstayed their visas are a risk to public safety and national security, it appears the final bullet is a catch-all category for many others. In other words, the president has “prioritized” everyone, which means in reality he’s prioritized no one, making everyone a target for enforcement. Furthermore, legal immigrants—even green card holders–who are convicted of aggravated felonies or crimes of moral turpitude could also be subject to deportation.

Yet despite the more aggressive approach, it is still unclear from where the resources to identify, arrest, detain, and deport all of these individuals will come. For example, the U.S. is already over-capacity in detention, and immigration courts are seriously backlogged.

In the past, the government has stated that budget realities make it impossible to remove everyone who is in the country without authorization or who is otherwise deportable. This meant the agency had to set priorities and focus on a subset of deportable immigrants.

The Obama administration released a series of memos designed to prioritize those who pose a threat to public safety and national security and other categories of individuals.”

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The Obama Administration made a total mess out of the already stressed U.S. Immigration Court dockets by unwisely and unnecessarily “prioritizing” cases of recently arrived unaccompanied children, women, and families fleeing violence and corruption in the Northern Triangle.

Nevertheless, thorough programs such as DACA, stateside processing, closing cases with possible relief pending before USCIS, and frequent wise use of prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) in “clean” cases with difficult legal issues but strong humanitarian factors, the Obama Administration was the first Administration I have seen make progress on developing a system that could eventually have helped “rationalize” Immigration Court dockets. If freed from politicized and unrealistic “priorities” from above, this eventually could have allowed the courts to focus on cases that really needed to be litigated, as is the case with almost all other high-volume court systems.

By contrast, the Trump Administration seems intent on “torquing” the Immigration Court system until it breaks apart. Even the Obama Administration used an overly broad concept of “criminal alien.” They included too many individuals who, while technically removable under the law, were doing useful things in the community and presented no real threat to the safety or security of the U.S.

Certainly the Trump Administration could have focused on those whose removals should be prioritized by “fine tuning” the Obama enforcement priorities. Instead, they have embarked on an expensive and ill-planned “mission impossible” to make everybody a priority (and, hence, nobody a priority) without any regard to the capacity or the best uses of court time and resources within our judicial system.

Additionally, the Trump Administration seems to be going out of its way to “disempower” those who are closest to the problem and are actually in the best position to determine which cases should be prosecuted:  the local Offices of Chief Counsel of the DHS (the “immigration equivalent” of the U.S. Attorney). In Arlington, the Office of Chief Counsel was well-respected by all and had an excellent grasp of how to make the justice system work for all involved. Their main problem, like that of the Immigration Courts, was unrealistic priorities and directives imposed on them by political officials “up the chain.”

Sadly, the Trump Administration seems determined not to build on those things that have been successful in the past and instead to embark on a new “blunderbuss” approach to immigration enforcement that is almost guaranteed to get tied up with both legal challenges and practical impossibilities.

PWS

02/19/17

Quartz: President Trump’s Claim Of High Correlation Between Undocumented Migrants And Crime Appears Bogus

https://qz.com/895624/how-much-crime-is-committed-by-immigrants/

Annalisa Merelli writes in Quartz:

“In his Jan. 25 executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” [P]resident Donald Trump announced that the Secretary of Homeland Security will publish, among other things, a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

This might suggest that people in the US illegally commit an unusually large number of crimes. There isn’t a register of crimes committed by this group of people, so it’s hard to show whether or not that’s the case. However, two data points suggest this group commits fewer crimes than people in the country legally. They are pointed out in a 2015 special report from the American Immigration Council.”

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PWS

01/26/17

Senator Grassley Asks About BIA Review At Sessions’s Confirmation Hearing

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/01/12/jeff-sessions-affirms-anti-immigrant-views-confirmation-hearing/

Joshua Briesblatt over at Immigration Impact gives us this interesting nugget from the Sessions Confirmation hearing:

“Lastly, Senator Grassley asked Senator Sessions if he would review all the decisions coming out of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The Attorney General has the authority to unilaterally revoke decisions of the BIA. Much of current asylum law is based on decisions by the BIA including those that determine what groups must receive protection from persecution in their home. As Attorney General, he would have the authority to make asylum vastly more difficult for those around the world who flee to the United States to avoid violence. Senator Sessions said that he “does appear” to have that authority and that he has “not thoroughly studied” the issue.”

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Interesting.  Was Chairman Grassley (R-IA) actually trying to suggest that this is something Senator Sessions should undertake as AG?  Actually, I think that if and when he gets around to studying it, AG Sessions will find that he does, in fact, have authority to review any BIA decision. But, if he reviewed all of them — that would be about 35,000 per year — I don’t think he’d have much time left over for anything else, including sleeping and eating.  Most AG’S review, at most, one or two BIA decisions per year.

Still, it indicates a fundamental due process problem with having the Immigration Courts and the BIA lodged in the Department of Justice.  As the chief law enforcement officer and litigator for the U.S., the Attorney General has no business reviewing any BIA decision — it’s a colossal conflict of interest, even by today’s evolving ethics standards.  That’s why the Immigration Court System must, at some point, become truly independent which means removing it from the DOJ and establishing it as some type of independent entity — an independent agency or and Article I or Article III Court.  Until then, true due process in the Immigration Courts may be elusive.

Notably, notwithstanding lots of recent publicity about the exploding docket and the problems crippling the nation’s Immigration Courts, neither Chairman Grassley nor Senator Sessions seemed to be particularly “up” on the issue or to have much idea of the reality of life in the Immigration Courts.  That’s not very encouraging.

PWS

01/13/17

Send In The Marines — Gen. Kelly Looks Like He Has The “Right Stuff” For DHS!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/01/11/john-kelly-said-immigration-policy-confirmation-hearing-dhs-secretary/

Maurice Belanger at Immigration Impact reports on Kelly’s immigration views:

“First, Kelly believes that much of the current migration from Central American countries has its roots in drug consumption in the U.S., which drives violence. His view is that the ultimate solution to the migration crisis, in addition to reducing American drug use, is to support governments in the region attempting to restore public safety and economic opportunity. He also stated that he believes that part of the reason migrants are coming to the U.S. is because they carry the notion that once they arrive, they will be able to stay. In his pre-hearing questionnaire, he noted that senior leaders of Central American countries told him that, “If you do not start sending them back to their country of origin quickly and in large numbers they will never stop making the trek north.”

Completely missing from the discussion however was what the U.S. should do in the meantime while addressing the violence and other factors pushing people out of Central America. As well as, what are America’s obligations to individuals arriving from the region seeking safety and security?

There was also considerable discussion of low morale among Border Patrol employees to which Kelly said that he believed “the number one thing right now would be in accordance with the law, let the people who are tasked to protect the border do their job.” However, there was no examination of assertions that Border Patrol agents are “prevented” from doing their job.

Kelly also demonstrated mixed views on enforcement of immigration law. For example, in an exchange on the issue of so-called “sanctuary cities,” Kelly said, “I understand maybe the perspective of some of the local leaders, but I do think the law is the law and I think the law has to be followed.” Yet, in another exchange with Senator Kamala Harris of California about DACA recipients and their families, Kelly said that, “I think law abiding individuals would in my mind, with limited assets to execute the law, would probably not be at the top of the list.”

However the more specific the questions got on immigration the more Kelly appeared out of his depth and unprepared to provide answers. For example, Senator Harris asked if Kelly would honor the government’s commitment not to use information collected on DACA recipients for enforcement purposes. Kelly responded that he had not been involved in “the entire development of immigration policy that is ongoing,” and only promised to “be involved in those discussions” if confirmed.

Finally, in response to a question by Michigan’s Senator Gary Peters concerning the establishment of a government database on Muslims in the U.S. Kelly responded, “I don’t agree with registering people based on ethnic or religion or anything like that.”

Over the course of the hearing, senators from both parties praised Kelly’s service to the country and he is likely to be confirmed. His views on the complicated set of laws and policies that govern our immigration system are still largely unformed. Hopefully, his need to better understand the policies in place, will translate into engagement with stakeholders concerned with immigrants and immigration.”

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From what I have heard and read, General Kelly is a highly competent, thoughtful, well-organized leader who has the ability to inspire those around him.  I’ve also read that he takes human rights responsibilities very seriously, and is willing to get input from a broad range of individuals — not just “insiders.”  To me, that’s exactly what DHS needs: some perspective, discipline, and mission focus.

Yes, he doesn’t have an immigration background — most Generals don’t.  But at least he comes at it from a professional law enforcement and national security angle — not as an advocate of reducing legal immigration or treating undocumented individuals like criminals.

And, he has some outstanding talent to advise him on immigration matters among the executive ranks of the career public servants at DHS. Lori L. Scialabba, Deputy Director of USCIS (former Chair of the BIA and Deputy General Counsel of the “Legacy INS”) and Raphael Choi, Chief Counsel of ICE in Arlington, VA immediately come to mind as accomplished managers with “big picture” views.  I’m sure there are many others who can help General Kelly formulate reasonable and effective immigration policies.

My one concern from reading this particular clip was General Kelly’s repetition of the “urban myth” that the way to stem the flow of Central American refugees is by “quick returns.”  That’s been the Obama Administration policy, and well as the policy of all other Administrations when faced with border incursions.  It has demonstrably failed during the Obama Administration, as it consistently has for the last four decades and will continue to do so.

That’s because it’s based on the false premise that most arrivals can, or should be, returned.  In reality, however, a substantial number, probably the majority, of those coming are fleeing violence, rape, death threats, and torture, and are therefore likely to have valid claims for protection under U.S. law if the proper legal standards are fairly and at least somewhat uniformly applied (something which, sadly, does not always happen).

Consequently, they can’t be sent home, and they are going to keep coming to apply for protection they are entitled to under our laws.  And, throwing them in detention isn’t going to deter them either — that’s been proved.  But it will certainly run up the taxpayers’ costs while eroding both our commitment to human rights and our moral standing as a nation.

Trying to reduce the violence and improve conditions in the Northern Triangle is important.  It was mentioned by Gen. Kelly, but it’s a “long haul,” not a short term, solution.

In the short run, a larger, more inclusive and realistic overseas refugee processing program in or near the Northern Triangle, combined with use of available mechanisms such as Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) and Deferred Enforced Departure (“DED”) to grant temporary protection short of asylum are likely to be more effective in promoting orderly border enforcement without adding to the workload of the already overwhelmed Asylum Offices and Immigration Courts.

We’re not going to be able to stop desperate individuals from coming without committing large scale violations of both domestic law and international treaty obligations.  But, we should be able to manage the flow so that the “bad guys” get screened out and returned while the others can remain temporarily without going into the asylum system while we’re trying to sort out and improve the situation in the Northern Triangle.  Perhaps, we also could reach agreements with other stable democracies in the Western Hemispheres to share the protection burden and distribute the flow.  It’s not an easy problem, and there are no easy or great solutions.

I know these aren’t then “quick fixes” or “silver bullet” solutions that folks want to hear about.  They also won’t satisfy  those who want to shut to doors to migration.

But, four decades of working on “quick fixes” from all sides — law enforcement, private sector, and judicial — tells me that we need a better, more practical, and more humane approach.  To just keep repeating the same failing policies over and over and expecting them to achieve success is, well, just plain . . . .

PWS

01/12/17

 

 

The Numbers Are In — DHS FY 2016 Enforcement Stats Confirm that Obama Administration is #1 In Removals!

http://immigrationimpact.com/2017/01/04/deportation-numbers-2016/

Joshua Breisblatt writes on Immigration Impact:

“Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 immigration enforcement data which, coupled with the previous years’ totals under the Obama Administration, show that the total number of removals from FY 2009 to FY 2016 totaled more than 2.7 million. Simply stated, President Obama has deported more people than any other president in U.S. history.

However, underneath those numbers belie some important lessons about the changing dynamics of who is showing up at the U.S. border and how a November 2014 enforcement priorities memo shaped the number of people deported from the interior of the nation.

. . . .

This means, more would-be-asylees are arriving at the U.S. border, rather than economic migrants as in years’ past. Yet, many are being denied asylum or put through expedited deportation processes, both unworthy of the nation’s commitment to protect those in need.

Also of note, the number of individuals picked up and deported from the interior of the country is on the decline, likely due to the 2014 enforcement priorities memo that sought to avoid deporting individuals who posed no threat and have strong economic and community ties in the U.S.”

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How much enforcement is enough?  Never enough, according to some.  Others disagree and think we’re going way overboard.  As the Trump Administration is probably going to find out, “immigration enforcement” is more often than not a “can’t win” political proposition.

PWS

01/04/17