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Deportation case closures rise, but backlog continues

July 25, 2012 |  4:03 pm

President Barack Obama talks about granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives in June.

More than 7,180 deportation cases have been closed under an Obama administration program aimed at focusing immigration enforcement on convicted criminals, but the court backlog it was also intended to address continues to swell.

Under the review, which was initiated late last year, officials were directed to examine about 300,000 cases pending before the nation’s immigration courts for possible closure. But since that time, about 111,000 new cases have been filed with the court, far outpacing the rise in case closures, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Individuals whose cases are closed avoid deportation but are not granted visas. Some are able to obtain work permits.

In June, the administration announced it would further loosen its deportation enforcement by allowing young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children but have no significant criminal histories, among other characteristics, to remain on a temporary basis. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 1.4 million people could potentially benefit from the leniency.

The court's review, announced last August, was meant to address a larger swath of potential deportees, including the elderly and pregnant women. Officials were instructed to weigh a variety of discretionary factors, including whether a person has longstanding ties to the community, suffers from an illness or has a U.S. citizen spouse or child. Advocates have decried the program as largely ineffective.

“The number of families that will have benefited by the time this is over will have been so minimal that really it would be laughable if it wasn’t such a tragedy,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, an advocacy group.

As of last week, about 22,980 individuals, or 6% of cases reviewed, have been identified as potential candidates for closure. Immigration officials say several factors, including background checks, can delay the process.Thousands who were offered discretion under the review also have chosen not to accept it, often because they have better chances of a long-term solution if the case goes to court, experts say.

In the Los Angeles area, 707 cases have been closed, the greatest number of any area, according to an analysis of public records by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Los Angeles also has the most pending court cases – 52,053 as of June 28, up from 48,532 last year, according to TRAC.

Those numbers do not include a two-week period from July 9-20 when immigration courts in Los Angeles were partially closed to allow officials to review cases of immigrants in detention. But those who are detained have had little success with the program: Only 71 so far have been identified as possible candidates for discretion, according to ICE.

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-- Paloma Esquivel

Photo: President Barack Obama talks about granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives in June. Credit: Susan Walsh / Associated Press

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