Reopening Of Previously-Closed Deportation Cases Has Dramatically Spiked In L.A. Since January
The number of previously-closed deportation cases being reopened in Los Angeles has "jumped sharply since President Trump took office," according to KPCC.
Beginning in 2011 under the Obama administration, federal immigration officials have been pausing certain deportation cases considered to be "low priority" under a policy called "administrative closure". Though not officially law (the policy depends on prosecutorial discretion), administrative closure has offered temporary relief to tens of thousands of immigrants with deep ties to the United States. Between January 2012 and January 2017, more than 80,000 people had their cases shelved through the policy, according to a Reuters analysis.
But administrative closure doesn't mean those people have legal status: individuals who agree to administrative closure are no longer in active deportation proceedings, but they also have no official permission to remain in the U.S. If anything, what they have is permission to remain in limbo, with periodic scheduled check-ins with immigration officials.
"They're not really legal—they are kind of in this quasi-legal status where they have the right to work [if given a work permit] but they have to report back periodically," immigration attorney Eli Kantor told to LAist. "Maybe they'll have comprehensive immigration reform and these people will get legalized, but in the meantime it didn't make a lot of sense to deport all these people." According to Kantor, as long as individuals granted administrative closure "stayed out of trouble and kept their nose clean, it was pretty much automatic that they would not be pursued and they could get their work permit renewed." (While on on administrative closure, individuals have the right to apply for a temporary work permit, according to Kantor).
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's priorities for deportation have shifted drastically under the new administration. President Obama had a set of clear mandates that dictated which undocumented immigrants should be prioritized for deportation efforts; under President Trump, there are no longer any priorities, meaning anyone in the country illegally is a potential target.
"Since Trump came in, and Sessions, they've just changed their whole prosecutorial discretion. They've turned it 180 degrees and said, 'No, we want to deport these people. Let's deport everyone we can," Kantor explained.
KPCC has found that the number of individuals who had their cases reopened after they had been paused through administrative closure has spiked dramatically since January 20, both in Los Angeles and nationwide. 475 cases were reopened cases in Los Angeles between January 20 and May 31; 292 were reopened during that same period last year. That's a 70% increase across the nation, and a 60% jump in L.A. alone. Immigration court officials told KPCC that there was no way to distinguish which of those cases might have involved people with prior criminal records, and which didn't.
"My colleagues in D.C. advise that while ICE’s focus is currently on individuals who have been arrested or convicted since their cases were closed, consistent with our current overall priorities, no classes of aliens are excluded," an ICE spokesperson told LAist in an email. "Thus, it is possible that during a regular review, a case involving a non-criminal alien might be re-calendared."
Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney specializing in immigrant rights' cases at Public Counsel, told LAist that although none of her clients had yet been affected, some who took prosecutorial discretion now fear that the government will renege on it.
"From what I've heard and read, there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason [to what cases get reopened]," Kantor said. "They just want to get the numbers up for political consumption."
"We're seeing instances where clients have not gotten into trouble, or there has really not been, in my opinion, a valid grounds to reopen, and ICE is moving forward [in reopening their cases] just because they now consider these people to be enforcement priorities," Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic co-founder Marisa Montes told LAist.
"It's draining on resources having to go back and make these appearances, spend your time in court, and you're clogging up the judge's calendar. These are extra cases that ICE doesn't necessarily need to take on," Montes continued.
"Because there's really no rhyme or reason to it, people are living in terror," Kantor said.