Although the chances of any type of comprehensive immigration reform being passed in the foreseeable future are slim to none, it would appear that another branch of the US government has taken it upon itself to implement what amounts to an informal immigration amnesty in various cities across the US.
In Houston alone, immigration judges dismissed more than two hundred pending deportation cases (a seven-fold month-over-month increase) in August; there were under 30 such dismissals in July. Of the three-hundred-fifty cases decided in Houston in September, almost half were dismissed without an order of deportation. Authorities have disclosed that the majority of dismissed cases involved individuals who had already been released back into the US on bond. Immigration Attorneys representing these clients had begun filing dismissal actions in federal court for clients who had been in the US for several years and did not have a serious criminal record.
Immigration judges in Houston have every reason to be aggressive in disposing of cases — the waiting time for an immigration hearing is currently two years. There are approximately 7,500 immigration deportation cases pending in Houston; there are almost 250,000 pending nationwide.
The Obama Administration has been on the defensive about the new policy, defending against claims that it is trying to do an end-run around the current US immigration amnesty stalemate. Although the official administration position is that dismissals occur only in cases where the defendant has an immediate avenue to immigration, there is no proof to back up the claim. The criteria for dismissal appears to be much more generous — the “two years and no serious crime” type of generous. However, after the uproar, some immigration attorneys now report that ICE trial attorneys are approaching the subject of joint motions for dismissal much more quietly than they did during the summer. Defenders of the controversial policy argue that the dismissals will free up immigration courts to deport more serious criminals. Proponents also point out that it is not really an “amnesty” as no actual immigration benefits or rights are conferred along with the dismissal.