October 19, 2011
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday that the Obama administration’s plan to drop some pending deportation cases will get under way in the next few weeks at selected sites across the country.
“The pilot will start in a few weeks, two to three weeks,” Napolitano said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “It will be very short and it’s designed to find logistical issues that happen where you’re trying to do a massive review of a lot of cases at the same time.”
Napolitano said the review, announced in August, is intended to “administratively close some of the low-priority cases.” She did not identify the districts where the review would begin, but she said it would be expanded nationwide as soon as the initial effort can be assessed.
Napolitano defended the effort to refocus immigration enforcement on priority cases, such as convicted criminals and recent border-crossers, as logical and similar to directives prior administrations issued to set priorities for deportation. On Tuesday, DHS released statistics showing some progress towards implementing the new priorities, but that a lot of deportees have minor criminal records that are supposed to make them a lower priority for deportation under the announced policy.
“Any prosecution office has finite resources and you have to set priorities,” Napolitano said. “The Congress gives us the resources to remove 400,000 [illegal immigrants each year. The question is who are we going to prioritize.”
However, the ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, called the administration’s plan “alarming.” He expressed particular concern about the administration’s announcement that work permits could be issued to some of those illegal immigrants whose cases are dropped.
“People with no right to remain in the country will be allowed to work here … is that correct?” Grassley asked skeptically.
Napolitano said that since 1986, the law has allowed work permits for some illegal immigrants who are permitted to remain in the country.
Under questioning by Grassley, Napolitano also said the application of the so-called “prosecutorial discretion” policy to people already ordered deported but who have not left would be very limited.
“Absent unusual circumstances,” such individuals would not be eligible for relief, she said. “This is for cases that are clogging up the docket and preventing us from getting to the higher priority cases.”
A letter Napolitano used to announce the review two months ago said final deportation orders could be canceled in “compelling cases.”
Democrats on the panel were broadly supportive of the review aimed at dismissing some pending deportation cases. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in fact, urged Napolitano to speed it up.
“I hope that you’ll continue along this line on an expedited basis,” Durbin told Napolitano.