WASHINGTON -- A review of about 300,000 pending deportation cases resulted in 2,609 men and women being allowed to stay in the U.S. -- at least temporarily -- as of the end of March because the government considers them low priority, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse found.
The findings, based on a Freedom of Information Act request, were released on Thursday and show the scope of a review process already underway in 69 immigration courts and expanding to Seattle, Detroit, New Orleans and Orlando in coming months.
The Obama administration announced in August 2011 it would review each case on the immigration court docket and close some it deems low priority.
The program was piloted in Baltimore and Denver. But the numbers provided by the government to the Syracuse University-affiliated Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse show the administration closed cases in 69 immigration courts across the U.S.
Of the 2,609 deportation cases closed, 230 were in Baltimore, 218 were in Los Angeles and 207 were in New York City. A small percentage of the cases closed were in courts based in detention centers or processing centers.
A stated reason for the review was to stop low-level cases -- non-criminals and young people who came to the U.S. as children, for example -- from "clogging the system," senior administration officials said in August.
But the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse found that the number of cases closed so far amounts to a small fraction of cases on immigration court dockets. In Baltimore, where there were 5,256 cases pending in September, closing 230 cut the caseload by less than 5 percent.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton laid out the administration's deportation priorities in a June 2011 memo. Even if an immigrant's deportation case is closed, the person could be deported at any time, especially if they commit a crime.
The Obama administration broke the record for deportations in the 2011 fiscal year, sending away 396,906 people.
See the slideshow below for some of the types of cases that could be closed based on the review process:
Undocumented young people who want to go to college or join the military -- the same individuals who would benefit from the DREAM Act -- could see their cases closed by the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration agents are instructed to factor in "the person's pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degree at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States." This could help young people in deportation proceedings, such as Monji Dolon, a 25-year-old born in Bangladesh who is slated for deportation.
Immigration officials are also instructed to consider "whether the person, or the person's immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat" when making deportation decisions. This could help keep family members of troops out of deportation proceedings.
Immediate family members of U.S. citizens are designated as low priority for deportation if they have no criminal record. Officials are instructed to factor "whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent," potentially helping families like Hope and Nazry Mustakim, who are fighting for Nazry to stay in the country.
Binational same-sex couples will be treated as families -- despite the Defense of Marriage Act -- in the eyes of immigration agents, senior administration officials confirmed in a call with reporters.
Immigration officials are told to consider age, particularly for the elderly and minors, when making immigration enforcement decisions.
Discretion should be applied in some cases where the immigrant is a primary caretaker of a disabled or seriously ill relative, according to the DHS memo. Immigration agents are also instructed to consider whether the person's spouse is pregnant or nursing.
Immigration agents are instructed to factor "whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as an asylum seeker, or a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other crime." If the person is likely to receive asylum, that person will be considered low priority for deportation.
Immigrants with severe mental and physical illnesses may be safe from deportation in some cases, provided they have not committed serious crimes. Officials are told to consider physical and mental illness when making a decision about deportation.