Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced  a new focus more on criminal aliens, and not immigration status violators who committed no crime.  Almost immediately, both sides of the band camp began to speak – with one side cautiously welcoming the move as a sensible use of limited resources, and the opposing side likening it to a backdoor amnesty.

Immigrants are among the most vulnerable of American society.  Due to a lack of familiarity with the culture, language and procedures in the United States, they make easy targets for people whose motives are not so helpful.

So how does one know whether their case will be selected?  What is considered a low priority case? Who gets a work permit? The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) recently issued a consumer advisory outlining what the government’s announcement is and is not.  

Here’s what you need to know: (adopted from AILA)

Although some are saying otherwise, the simple fact is: this is NOT amnesty.  It’s not giving legal status.  There’s no form to fill out, or a fee you can pay to get status.  It is only an announcement that many immigration cases will be set as high or low priority.  That’s all.  If you’re lucky you will be a low priority case.  It’s a way for the immigration courts to clear out some of their backlog.

This comes on the heels of the new “Morton Memo” – a new set of prosecutorial discretion guidelines—taken from a June memo by ICE Director John Morton—agency wide and the created a high-level working group to review pending cases and assign low priority (and this is up to ICE – you don’t get a say in whether your case will be low or high priority); and try to set guidelines so that there is more consistency in how people are placed in removal proceedings.  (Yes, there is a lot of inconsistency.)  There is also a directive to determine what to do in compelling cases where there has been an order of removal already. 

One issue I have not seen talked about much is the flip side to this announcement.  If 300,000 immigration cases are demoted to low priority, what does that do to the rest of the immigration court cases?  That’s right: those cases are now, relatively speaking, “high priority.” The court dates will be quicker, and DHS will have more resources available to it to prosecute the case, make legal arguments for removal, spend the time and money to sniff out and prosecute cases for fraud, work with other federal agencies, and generally do what it does: detain and deport people.  

If you have a question about it – talk to an LAWYER.  Do NOT listen to your friends.  Do NOT listen to notarios or other “immigration specialists.” Do NOT try to file something by yourself.  ICE is still an agency that exists to deport people: dealing with them unrepresented is like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth: it might not bite, but it’s not a good idea.

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