The number of deportation cases filed by federal immigration officials dropped by nearly a third in the first three months of the fiscal year, according to a report by the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
The drop recorded in the last three months of 2011 may reflect the Obama administration’s plan to focus its deportation efforts by weighing a variety of discretionary factors, including whether the person is a veteran, came to the U.S. as a child or is a college student, according to the report. But experts said it’s too soon to say if deportations overall will decline.
From October through December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated 39,331 deportation cases in immigration court, down from 58,639 the previous quarter, the report says. Filings are typically lower during the holiday months, but even adjusted for the seasonal drop-off the numbers are significantly lower, according to the authors.
Immigration officials said they have not had the opportunity to review the data to verify their accuracy but added that the numbers don’t fully encompass the ways in which a person can be deported. The report, said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen, is focused only on submissions for deportations made to immigration courts.
“It ignores the fact that ICE regularly removes individuals without going through formal [immigration court] proceedings utilizing voluntary, administrative, expedited and stipulated removals as well the reinstatement of old removal orders,” she said.
Some immigration attorneys said they have started to see a change in the types of cases the government pursues.
“It’s too early for me to say it’s a trend,” said Carl Shusterman, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney and former trial attorney for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. “But it is something I didn’t necessarily get in the past.
“Before, if you had these Dream Act students and we wanted to keep them in the U.S., I’d have to go to a congressman and beg for a private bill. Now I can just go to a deportation officer who has the case and say, ‘You know this person falls within these prosecutorial discretion guidelines. You don’t really want to deport them, do you?’ And they’ll agree with you. That is a sea change.”