Last week, the Obama Administration announced an (immigration) Prioritization Plan. Priority: enforcement of immigration laws against serious criminals who are a threat to our public safety, i.e. deporting them. Not a priority: approximately 300,000 pending immigration court cases for non-U.S. Citizens convicted of minor crimes or "simply" here in violation of our immigration laws. Potential: termination of the removal proceedings for the 300,000 with issuance/reissuance of work permits and a path to legalization. Amnesty? Not quite... yet.
The Prioritization Plan announcement falls on the heels of a related but unpublicized government announcement/memorandum on prosecutorial discretion of immigration violations. Trend: prosecution of "serious" immigration violators be they businesses engaged in the widespread employment of undocumented workers or individuals convicted of serious crimes; relief for those who are otherwise eligible but for previous immigration violations such as being ordered deported but never having left.
Those who have been previously ordered deported but never left the United States may seek to have removal orders stayed and cases reopened provided that they now have a form of immigration relief. Motions to reopen are not new; the government's attitude towards said motions, however, is and in my opinion, the new and refreshing attitude is a direct result of the prosecutorial discretion memorandum.
A recent (success) story to illustrate: Manny and his wife entered the United States in 1984 seeking a better life. Manny and his wife started working and overstayed his visa. After 10 years, Manny and his wife bought their first house after having four beautiful children. They were living the American Dream, but unfortunately, they did not have legal immigration status. The previous applied for "work permits" which landed them in deportation proceedings. They had no relief at the time and were ordered deported by the immigration court. They never left. They carried on with their usual life: family, work, Church... being fugitives.
Manny and his wife received a dramatic wake-up call from the U.S. government. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Manny's house and arrested both him and his wife in efforts to execute the outstanding deportation orders. Manny and his wife were taken into custody for immediate deportation.
Luckily, Manny's oldest child, now 21, came to our office seeking assistance. Although, deportation seemed imminent, we fought for Manny and his wife even when there seemed to be no hope. We filed an application for stay of removal. An application for stay of removal basically is a request made to the deportation officer asking for a favorable exercise of discretion to withhold deportation. This type of application is purely discretionary. We conveyed to the government that Manny and his wife have been hard working individuals with an established family in the United States. They were law-abiding individuals and risks losing everything in the U.S. if they were deported. If given enough time, Manny and his wife would perhaps be able to reopen their case and adjust their status. ICE approved the application for stay of deportation that we filed on our clients' behalf. Manny and his wife were released and given 6 months to complete their case. The case will now be reopened and our clients will be able to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent residence.
An application for stay of removal is just one of many types of relief available after deportation or removal has been ordered. Nevertheless, relief is not easily obtained. Each case varies with its own unique facts. If you have been ordered deported or have a loved one that has been ordered deported, we urge that you take action now. Seek a competent and reliable immigration attorney who is able to assess your case. Don't wait until ICE comes knocking on your door. There is still hope.
Personally, I am optimistic that refocused attention on our nation's immigration situation will bring about positive change. But, whether the Prioritization Plan is in fact the positive change that we need remains to be determined. We anticipate that within the upcoming weeks, the government will release guidance on how to proceed under the new plan. In the meantime, do not sit idly by.