As Deportations Increase, So Have Officials' Attempts
to Deport the Wrong People
by Marian Wang
November 10, 2010
As deportations have increased under the Obama
administration, immigration judges have also
increasingly denied requests by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement to deport people who were legitimately
entitled to stay in the country , according to new
data obtained by Syracuse University's Transaction
Records Access Clearinghouse.
From July to September of this year, for instance,
almost a third of all deportation cases brought by ICE
were rejected by immigration judges-up from 12 months
earlier, when the rate was one out of every four.
According to TRAC, judges have rejected removal orders
for more than a quarter of a million individuals in the
past five years.
While the judges' exact reasons remain unclear, records
from the Justice Department's Executive Office for
Immigration Review indicate that many times, immigration
officials had either tried to deport the wrong people or
requested dismissal because they didn't have enough
evidence to justify deportation. In some cases, judges
also granted relief  [PDF] because of an individual's
refugee status, a pending application for change of
legal status or for some other reason.
ICE has refused to turn over more detailed data  on
the deportation cases that were rejected by courts,
according to TRAC. In lieu of more data, TRAC noted the
The new findings about the broad failures in ICE
efforts to deport individuals raise two important
questions that might be answered with the more
extensive data that the agency has sought to
withhold from the public. One involves the
effectiveness of the agency: is it targeting the
individuals for removal who in fact should be
deported? The second question concerns the basic
fairness of the process: what is the impact on those
individuals the agency has wrongly sought to remove
who were entitled to remain in the United States?
When we asked about the immigration cases brought by ICE
that were rejected by judges, ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz-
Delgado said his agency has "no say in what the decision
of the immigration judges is going to be," and
reiterated that his agency's priority is to "remove
criminal aliens first."
The new statistics coincide with a smattering of local
 reports , which in recent months have noted that
immigration courts across the country are increasingly
dismissing some deportation cases for reasons that
aren't entirely clear. Here's a Miami Herald story, for
instance, that ran just last week:
In August and September, for example, judges at
Miami immigration court dismissed 631 deportation
cases compared to 449 in June and July.
In fact, the 324 cases immigration judges dismissed
in August was the highest monthly case termination
figure in the last 12 months, according to
statistics the Justice Department's immigration
court system released last week.
. While immigration court officials would not
speculate on why judges are terminating more cases
than before, some attorneys said U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement trial attorneys now seem
more willing to drop deportation cases against
certain foreign nationals.
Last month, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary
Committee called for an investigation  into the
increase in dismissals of deportation cases, alleging
that Homeland Security officials are selectively
enforcing the law based on "chosen enforcement
As we've noted, one potential cause  for the
dismissals could be the staggering backlog of cases in
immigration courts-a number that has risen to record
levels along with the rise in deportations under the
This week the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted that while
dismissals don't seem to be increasing in Las Vegas, the
backlog there is at an all-time high, having ballooned
by more than 80 percent  this year.
TRAC's data also show that the trend of rejected
deportation cases depends on the court, but the top five
in this fiscal year were New York City (with 70% of
cases rejected), Portland (63%), Los Angeles (63%),
Miami (59%), and Philadelphia (55%).
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