SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Immigration officials have offered to shelve 7.5 percent of deportation cases under a massive review of the backlogged U.S. system aimed at focusing on deporting more criminals, authorities said Tuesday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has offered to temporarily suspend the deportation cases of roughly 16,500 people after reviewing more than 70 percent of the immigration cases pending as of mid-April, according to statistics released by the agency.
ICE officials said 2,700 cases have been shelved. The rest still require paperwork and background checks.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants had been told of the offer or how many had accepted it.
The Obama administration announced in August that roughly 300,000 deportation cases would be reviewed and non-criminals and those undocumented immigrants who posed no public safety or national security threat would likely have their cases put on hold indefinitely.
The move was welcomed by immigrant advocates but reviled by critics who called the program an attempt by the administration to work around Congress.
Since then, however, immigrant advocates have complained the government is offering to apply so-called prosecutorial discretion in too few instances, and that those whose deportation cases are put on the back burner still don't get a work permit.
So far, the approval rate "is a very low number," said Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
"You can't expect people to not be able to feed their families and have some source of income and still survive," he added.
Some say immigrants might do better by trying their luck in immigration court, where, for example, they could seek asylum.
More than half of immigrants whose asylum cases were decided by an immigration judge in the 2011 fiscal year actually won their cases, according to statistics from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the country's immigration court system.
ICE deputy press secretary Gillian Christensen said the review is ongoing. The main focus is to enable authorities to focus on deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records or those who previously ignored court orders to leave the country.
"This review is designed to allow the agency to make the best use of its limited resources," she said in a statement.
Of the cases put on hold to date, the vast majority – more than 2,000 – involve immigrants who have lived in the country for a long time and have an immediate relative who is an American citizen. About 175 are children and 180 are college students or graduates who came to the U.S. when they were under 16 and have lived in the country for more than five years, the agency said.
In addition, immigration officials said they are also putting a halt on some deportation orders.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said some initially thought the program would bring sweeping change to the deportation process but the latest data shows it hasn't turned out that way.
"I'm glad they pulled their punch," said Krikorian, whose organization favors stricter immigration limits, "though obviously I would have preferred they not do this thing altogether."
Check out The Harshest Immigration Laws:
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>