The US government has a new discretion program. Under the program, which launched last year, immigration authorities will take a look at the some 300 000 pending immigration court cases that are on the books and will use prosecutorial discretion to focus only on those cases that negatively affect communities and on those cases which involve serious crimes, essentially offering some immigrants accused of minor crimes the chance to suspend deportation temporarily. As of April, immigration authorities had had looked over 70% of the court cases and had offered a temporary halt on deportation for about 7.5% of the cases reviewed.
Some immigrants, however, are taking their chances in court rather than accepting the prosecutorial discretion offer. Partly, this is because the program does not offer a path to a green card and does not ensure that the immigrant will not eventually be deported. If the offer is accepted, the deportation and case are suspended indefinitely, but immigration authorities have the right to re-open the case at any time. In cases where an immigration attorney feels that a client has a strong case, immigration attorneys are encouraging clients to pursue their cases. According to some immigrants and immigration advocates, another problem with the prosecutorial discretion offer is that it is only being offered in a very small selection of cases – often to those who have a good chance of winning in court anyway.
Immigration authorities are contacting immigrants and immigration authorities regarding any cases that qualify for the prosecutorial discretion offer. The government aims to reduce the immigration case backlog and to reduce the burden on the system. Currently, the large number of cases means that authorities do not have the resources to deport everyone. This is becoming an even greater burden as more and more immigrants are deported. According to ICE records, the agency deported a record-setting 400 000 individuals in 2011. The ICE has stated that it needs to prioritize its efforts on deporting those who pose the greatest threat to the US, since the US has millions of undocumented immigrants and deporting all of them would be impossible.
Prosecutorial discretion may work for some immigrants, however. Those who have family members sponsoring them for a green card can use the prosecutorial discretion offer to get more time for their visa to come through. For some immigrants, prosecutorial discretion offers may be the only way to remain in a country where they have built a life.