MPI: Revisions to DHS Immigration Enforcement Priorities Could Shield Vast Majority of Unauthorized Immigrants from Deportation

Greater Focus Placed on Serious Criminals, Public-Safety Risks & Recent Illegal Entrants

WASHINGTON — Changes to the immigration enforcement system ordered by President Obama could, if strictly implemented, offer a degree of protection from deportation to 87 percent of the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, up from about 73 percent under earlier guidelines, according to a Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis released today.

The new policy guidance on immigration enforcement priorities and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion updates 2010-2011 enforcement priorities. The changes and the replacement of the controversial Secure Communities program with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), both lesser-noticed components of wide-ranging executive actions announced by the president in November 2014, are the focus of the MPI report.

The move to aim immigration enforcement even more sharply at unauthorized immigrants and other deportable noncitizens who have been convicted of serious crimes, are threats to public safety, are recent illegal entrants or who have violated recent deportation orders could reduce deportations from the interior of the United States by about 25,000 cases annually, MPI estimates.

The findings are contained in the report, Understanding the Potential Impact of Executive Action on Immigration Enforcement. It assesses Department of Homeland Security (DHS) removals from fiscal 2003-13 by enforcement priority category to determine how 2014 policy guidance issued by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson may affect deportations within the U.S. interior. While the new policy guidance is likely to have a significant effect on interior removals, the report notes that deportations at the U.S.-Mexico border are not likely to decline, and may even increase.

The report estimates that about 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants have criminal convictions or immigration histories that would make them enforcement priorities under the new policies. This number is down from 3 million considered enforcement priorities under the 2010-2011 guidelines issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for interior enforcement. Both estimates have a 10 percent margin of error.

“While much of the attention to the president’s executive action announcement has focused on the deferred action programs, which MPI has estimated could grant relief from deportation to as many as 5.2 million unauthorized immigrants, implementation of the new enforcement priorities is likely to affect about 9.6 million people,” said report author Marc Rosenblum, who is deputy director of MPI’s U.S. immigration policy program.

Much will turn on how the new policies are implemented by ICE, the report notes. “The effects of the new policy guidance on deportations will depend to a large degree on implementation of the replacement to the Secure Communities program, which has drawn significant opposition from local communities and law enforcement officials across the United States,” said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who directs the U.S. immigration policy program.

More than 360 jurisdictions across the United States, which MPI estimates are home to slightly more than half (53 percent) of the U.S. unauthorized population, have limited or barred the cooperation of their police departments with aspects of Secure Communities, an information-sharing program that uses fingerprint data to check the immigration status of arrestees. Amid criticism that the program undermines police-community relations and has resulted in the deportations of large numbers of non-criminals and minor offenders, the jurisdictions have placed limits on holding potentially removable arrestees for pickup by ICE.

The report analyzes how the PEP program — in replacing Secure Communities — holds the potential to mend the growing rift in federal-local relations over immigration enforcement. PEP limits the use of ICE immigration detainers to those who have been convicted of a serious crime or are a public-safety risk (as opposed to anyone encountered in the criminal justice system).

“PEP appears designed to retain the public safety goals of Secure Communities, which was responsible for nearly three-quarters of all interior removals in fiscal 2014, while addressing many of the concerns raised by the program’s critics,” Rosenblum said.

The disconnect between local and federal law enforcement over Secure Communities was highlighted by a recent tragedy in San Francisco, when a young woman was fatally shot by an unauthorized immigrant who had been on track for mandatory deportation until the city claimed him from federal custody for a possible prosecution on local drug charges and then released him.

The report can be downloaded at: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/understanding-potential-impact-executive-action-immigration-enforcement.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.

Source: Migration Policy Ins