On August 20 John Morton, head of ICE, issued a memorandum to the agency about how to handle deportation cases involving foreign nationals who are also legally eligible to apply for green cards. The policy has the anti-immigrant restrictionists and their friends on Capitol Hill in a tizzy and howling about back door amnesty (what else?). It has also provided fresh anti-immigrant fodder for Fox News.
But the ICE memo represents a welcome (and all too rare) outbreak of common sense at the agency, not a back door amnesty program. I would suggest that the restrictionists, politicians, and televised talking heads read the memo before incorrectly (and irresponsibly) claiming it authorizes the mass cancellation of deportations or directs the dismissal of deportation cases against dangerous criminals.
The truth is that the memo is quite limited in scope. It affects only foreign nationals in deportation proceedings who are the beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions, which, when processed, will give them an immediate right to file for a green card. Stated differently, the memo affects only people who can immigrate legally under existing laws–meaning they have otherwise played by the rules and waited their turn for a visa.
To suggest that the memo will lead to the dismissal of deportation cases against dangerous criminals, as some have charged, is ludicrous. In fact, the memo directs that ICE attorneys “shall promptly consult with the Field Office Director (FOD) and Special Agent in Charge (SAC) to determine if there are any investigations or serious adverse factors weighing against dismissal of proceedings.” Adverse factors include criminal convictions, evidence of fraud or other criminal misconduct, and national security and public safety considerations.
I have never been shy about criticizing ICE when it is warranted. But this memo, if implemented across the US, could go a long way toward reducing the tremendous backlogs that plague the immigration courts, and relieving overcrowding in the vast ICE detention system. The memo represents an attempt to efficiently use scarce law enforcement resources so the government can target for removal those who would do Americans harm–terrorists, violent criminals, drug traffickers, and alien smugglers.
It is stunning that the “just say no to sensible immigration policy” crowd, with Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) as their loudest cheerleader in Congress, once again cries wolf in the face of smart immigration enforcement.