Gov't tells agents to ID which immigrants not to deport
THE OBAMA administration has ordered immigration agents to ask immigrants they encounter living in the country illegally whether they might qualify under President Barack Obama's plans to avoid deporting them, according to internal training materials obtained by The Associated Press.
Agents also have been told to review government files to identify any jailed immigrants they might be able to release under the programme.
The directives from the Homeland Security Department mark an unusual change for United States immigration enforcement, placing the obligation on the government for identifying immigrants who might qualify for lenient treatment. Previously, it was the responsibility of immigrants or their lawyers to assert that they might qualify under rules that could keep them out of jail and inside the United States (US).
It is akin to the Internal Revenue Service calling taxpayers to recommend they should have used certain exemptions or deductions.
The training materials apply to agents for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They instruct agents "to immediately begin identifying persons in their custody, as well as newly encountered persons" who may be eligible for protection from deportation.
One training document includes scenarios describing encounters between agents and immigrants with guidance about how agents should proceed, with a checklist of questions to determine whether immigrants might qualify under the president's plans. ICE officials earlier began releasing immigrants who qualified for leniency from federal immigration jails.
Obama in November announced a programme to allow roughly four million parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents to apply for permission to stay in the country for up to three years and get a work permit. The programme mirrors one announced in 2012 that provides protection from deportation for young immigrants brought to the country as children.
CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said having his agents ask questions about whether an immigrant might qualify for leniency upfront saves time and money and "let's us use our resources, particularly the Border Patrol, for the people who are going to be at the highest level".
Immigrants caught crossing the border remain a top enforcement priority.
Crystal Williams, executive director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, said the training will help filter people the government said should not be a priority anyway. She said the training marked the first she has heard of officers being directed to screen immigrants for potential leniency before they were arrested.