Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") no longer prioritizes who they go after when seeking the removal of a non-citizen from the United States. Previously, there had been levels of priority, establishing a system that tried to ensure the limited and valuable government resources available were used to target criminals and terrorists first, before going after long-time undocumented immigrants with family ties and no criminal history. That is no longer the case.
Commonly referred to as the "Morton Memo," a 2010 memo from then-ICE Director John Morton laid out priorities for immigration law violators in a three-tier system. The government would go after those first who were deemed threats to national security or public safety, second, those undocumented immigrants who had only recently crossed the border, and third, immigrants who were previously ordered deported and either didn't leave or came back unlawfully.
Let's be clear. This wasn't a perfect system. But it tried to allocate limited resources in an attempt to establish a logical method for dealing with a messy immigration system. And by "limited resources," that means there simply aren't enough immigration officers or immigration judges to ensure everyone who violates an immigraton law is brought to court. The government reasonably would need to set up priorities for who they are going after.
Other memos followed that offered additional guidance. A separate memo in 2011 allowed agents to use their "discretion" in pursuing deportation, and set up a system for who should be given deferred action. Requests for prosecutorial discretion could be made, and were often granted, for those who had significant ties to the United States. This grant would mean that person wouldn't be deported for a short period of time, unless they made some new violation, and could receive temporary work authorization. Those priorities and officers' ability to exercise discretion have been cast into the wind under the Trump administration.
No Current Priorities
Now everyone is deemed an enforcement priority. Which, essentially means there are no priorities at all. So in terms of who the government will try to deport, the mother of U.S. citizen children who crossed the border unlawfully 20 years ago and has maintained a clean criminal record, is now on equal footing with a convicted violent felon, gang member, or terrorist. Without prioritizing those who pose a danger, everyone--citizen and non-citizen alike--is more at risk, and peaceful communities and workplaces will continue to be torn apart.
If you have any questions about immigration law, or want to know what to do if ICE agents appear at your home, give the experienced attorneys at Saenz & Maniatis, PLLC a call at (615) 366-1211. Hablamos Español.