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Case Dismissed: ICE vs. the Immigration Courts

What characterizes a broken immigration system? Though the phrase has become shorthand in describing our current immigration policies, just what this means can sometimes get lost in the weeds. This week, an analysis of our immigration courts by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) adds to our understanding of what’s wrong with the status quo.

According to the study, the immigration courts rejected one out of every three ICE deportation requests from July to September 2010, an increase from one out of four just 12 months prior. Throughout the whole year, New York City courts denied a whopping 70 percent of removal requests, and while Los Angeles courts denied 63 percent.

Cases are terminated when a judge finds that government lacks grounds for deporting an individual, when he or she has a legitimate claim to asylum or other relief provision, or when DHS finds it doesn’t have the evidence to support a removal case. From the FY2009 to the latest available data for FY2010, immigration courts rejected nearly 111,000 government cases on these grounds.

Immigration hawks will probably leap on these statistics to support claims that the Obama Administration doesn’t want to enforce immigration laws. In reality, this research is indicative of aggressive and misguided immigration enforcement. Indeed, TRAC’s most striking finding attributes the growth in rejections to larger numbers of cases terminated when the government has no legal basis for deporting an immigrant.

Consider the staggering amount of governmental resources wasted investigating ultimately terminated cases—because of massive court backlogs, these take an average of 424 days to complete. For immigrants, the effects of a flawed system are closely felt; some languish in jail as their cases plod through the immigration system, while others can return to their communities, but must put lives and livelihoods on hold while awaiting a favorable ruling.

These results are also clearly at odds with ICE’s recent push to target dangerous violent criminals for deportation. As ICE continues to ramp up immigration enforcement programs to catch these lawbreakers, its rejection record in the immigration court is surprising. If ICE is really focusing on dangerous deportable aliens, why are these dismissal numbers so high? Unfortunately, ICE has been unlawfully refusing to provide TRAC with data that could answer this and other key immigration enforcement questions. From the report:

Without ICE data, we were unable to assess why judges are turning down so many ICE removal efforts, why turndowns during 2010 were climbing, or why ICE's record in some parts of the country was particularly poor…The reasons ICE gave for its refusal were in themselves simply astounding had they been believable.

In addition, much of the data requested under the Freedom of Information Act had been previously released to TRAC and other researchers. It’s unclear what has changed to make this information unavailable, but ICE should release the data immediately. TRAC pointedly reminds us that ICE’s actions aren’t consistent with the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency and public participation in government. Only with further analysis of these striking removal trends can we continue to identify, and hopefully improve upon the failures of our immigration system.

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Posted at 2:04 PM, Nov 11, 2010 in Immigration
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