In the month after Homeland Security officials started a review of Houston’s immigration court docket, immigration judges dismissed more than 200 cases, an increase of more than 700 percent from the prior month, new data shows.
The number of dismissals in Houston courts reached 217 in August–up from just 27 in July, according to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers the nation’s immigration court system.
In September, judges dismissed 174 pending cases–the vast majority involving immigrants who already were out on bond and had cases pending on Houston’s crowded downtown court docket, where hearings are now being scheduled into 2012.
Roughly 45 percent of the 350 cases decided in that court in September resulted in dismissals, the records show.
In early August, federal attorneys in Houston started filing unsolicited motions to dismiss cases involving suspected illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for years without committing serious crimes.
In recent weeks, some immigration attorneys reported the dismissals have slowed somewhat, while others reported they now have to ask ICE trial attorneys to exercise prosecutorial discretion in order to have their cases dismissed. Others, however, said they are still being approached by government attorneys seeking to file joint motions for case dismissal.
Broad set of criteria
ICE has tried to downplay the docket reviews, suggesting in some media accounts that they were limited to cases involving illegal immigrants with pending petitions filed by U.S. citizen relatives.
To qualify for dismissal, defendants also must have no felony record or any misdemeanor convictions involving DWI, sex crimes or domestic violence, he said.
Several dismissed cases examined by the Chronicle involved defendants without U.S. citizen relatives but with arguments for dismissal on humanitarian grounds, such as illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who have stayed out of trouble and are enrolled in college.
Dismissed, but still illegal
The dismissals essentially mean that officials are no longer actively trying to remove defendants through the immigration court system, though they can refile such charges at a later date.
The dismissals do not convey any kind of legal status, so recipients remain illegal immigrants and cannot work legally in the U.S.