Immigration Judges Granting ICE Deportation Requests At Lower Rates

An immigrant about to be deported.
Juan Sacaria Lopez, an illegal immigrant, boards a plane at a flight operation unit at Mesa airport during his deportation process in Phoenix, Arizona July 10, 2009. Reuters/Carlos Barria

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research center at Syracuse University which files for and makes public data on the federal government’s activities, reports that according to recently obtained data, immigration judges nationally are less likely than ever before to agree with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when the agency seeks a deportation order.  In the first four months of fiscal year 2014, 50.3 percent of all ICE deportation requests across the United States ended up being granted by the judge assigned to the case.

That rate is lower than that of fiscal year 2013, when 52.9 percent of immigrants whose deportation was sought by ICE ended up having an order of removal issued.  TRAC notes that rates have been dropping steadily since 2011 after hovering for years between 70 and 90 percent.  That year (2011) is the same year then-director of ICE John Morton issued a memo which recommended that agents refrain from pursuing prosecution in the case of certain undocumented immigrants (like “Dreamers” and those with other close community ties to the US) and instead focus resources more on those with criminal records.  

But even as ICE’s success rate dropped in 2011 and 2012, the numbers of those deported hung around 400,000 (with 396,000 people deported in 2011 and 408,849 in 2012).  That could mean the agency -- whose union bucked Morton and the Obama administration in a 2010 letter which called for Morton’s resignation – may have done less screening in its prosecutions than its leadership has called for. 

The rates also vary widely according to region.  In Georgia, Louisiana, Utah and Michigan, at least 70 percent of immigrants with deportation requests filed against them saw a removal order issued by a judge.  Five other states and territories had rates of over 60 percent.  The lowest three places for which TRAC had collected data were Oregon (22.8), New York (29) and Puerto Rico (33.1).

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.