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U.S. shifts approach to deporting illegal immigrants

By Marcus Stern, ProPublica USA Today

The Obama administration is changing the federal immigration enforcement strategy in ways that reduce the threat of deportation for millions of illegal immigrants, even as states such as Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Texas are pushing to accelerate deportations.

The changes focus enforcement on immigrants who have committed serious crimes, an effort to unclog immigration courts and detention centers. A record backlog of deportation cases has forced immigrants to wait an average 459 days for their hearings, according to an Aug. 12 report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which analyzes government data.

Among the recent changes:

• Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton ordered agency officials on Aug. 20 to begin dismissing deportation cases against people who haven’t committed serious crimes and have credible immigration applications pending.

• A proposed directive from Morton posted on ICE’s website for public comment last month would generally prohibit police from using misdemeanor traffic stops to send people to ICE. Traffic stops have led to increased deportations in recent years, according to Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank whose research supports tighter enforcement.

The directive said exceptions would be made in certain cases, such as when immigrants have serious criminal records.

• ICE officers have been told to “exercise discretion” when deciding whether to detain “long-time lawful permanent residents, juveniles, the immediate family members of U.S. citizens, veterans, members of the armed forces and their families, and others with illnesses or special circumstances,” Daniel Ragsdale, ICE executive associate director of management, testified July 1 in the administration’s lawsuit to block Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The law requires police officers to determine the immigration status of suspects stopped for another offense if there was a “reasonable suspicion” they are in the USA illegally. A U.S. district judge has held up the provision pending review.

To read more, visit: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-09-10-immigration10_ST_N.htm

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