A special Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program announced last August to reduce the massive backlog of pending matters by identifying those that could be dismissed or put on hold has resulted in the closure of 2,609 cases, according to government data covering the period up to the end of March. The backlog reduction is less than one percent of the 298,173 cases pending before the Immigration Courts as of the end of last September.
“Prosecutorial discretion” is the authority of an agency or officer to decide what charges to bring and how to pursue each case. A law-enforcement officer who declines to pursue a case against a person has favorably exercised prosecutorial discretion. The authority to exercise discretion in deciding when to prosecute and when not to prosecute based on a priority system has long been recognized as a critical part of U.S. law. The concept of prosecutorial discretion applies in civil, administrative, and criminal contexts.
The stated goal of the ICE program was to better prioritize and reduce the backup of pending matters that had led to lengthy delays in the proceedings of noncitizens it wanted to deport. So far, however, the pace of these closures has not been sufficient to stop the growth in the court’s backlog. In fact, as of the end of March 2012, the Immigration Court backlog had risen to 305,556 matters.
The accelerated triage of the court docket — about 300,000 cases or more — is intended to allow severely overburdened immigration judges to focus on deporting foreigners who committed serious crimes or pose national security risk. Taken together, the review and the training, which will instruct immigration agents on closing deportations that fall outside the department’s priorities, are designed to bring sweeping changes to the immigration courts and to enforcement strategies of field agents nationwide.
According to the report, despite the failure to release its evaluation of the results of its pilots, the agency on March 30, 2012 announced the next phase of its case-by-case review to determine in which ones it will exercise prosecutorial discretion. Supporting this effort EOIR “has agreed to temporarily and partially suspend non-detained dockets in seven additional immigration courts in the upcoming weeks.” Impacted are the courts in: “Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, and Seattle from April 23 until May 4; New York from May 7 until May 18; San Francisco from June 4 until June 15; and Los Angeles from July 9 until July 20.” EOIR canceled the hearings for the already scheduled cases on those dates and rescheduled them for later. Because of its backlog, this reportedly resulted in postponing many hearings until 2014.
Here is a link to the TRAC report detailing data on ICE’s prosecutorial discretion initiative from the August announcement through March 28, 2012, including the total number of cases closed, results from the Baltimore and Denver pilot projects, and figures from other courts around the nation. We will keep you posted as new stats are released.