One Year Later, Change in Immigration Policy Shows Mixed Results

A year after the Obama administration announced a new immigration policy — prosecutorial discretion — immigration advocates said they are disappointed with the results.

“At the very least we hoped it might stop the hemorrhaging of mass deportations,” said SJ Jung, president of the Queens-based MinKwon Center for Community Action. “Sadly, we were wrong. The interim report card on this new policy came out, and it got an F.”

Jung was one of a dozen immigration advocates who gathered on Thursday in front of the immigration court in New York, criticizing what they say are low numbers resulting from the changed policy.

Last June, John Morton, director of ICE, issued a memo instructing his attorneys and officers to exercise prosecutorial discretion by allowing some undocumented immigrants with clean criminal records and strong ties to the United States to stay here, although without automatically getting legal status. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE, began putting the policy into effect by reviewing backlogged cases in immigration courts.

ICE has reviewed 96 percent of the 300,000 cases backlogged in immigration courts and found that around 7 percent of undocumented immigrants are eligible for prosecutorial discretion. 

“The ongoing case-by-case review is helping to alleviate backlogged immigration courts,” a spokeswoman for ICE said, “and enabling ICE to more quickly remove those individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety.”

Some immigration attorneys said they agree, emphasizing the policy could result in lower numbers of people who get placed in deportation proceedings in the future.