A little-known Department of Homeland Security (DHS) directive from 2012 has dramatically altered the enforcement of immigration laws by shielding most illegal immigrants without separate criminal convictions from deportation.
Data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reviewed by the office of Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), indicate that the “DHS has blocked the enforcement of immigration law for the overwhelming majority of violations — and is planning to widen that amnesty even further.”
A DHS directive from December 21, 2012, decreed that ICE agents could act against illegal immigrants only in limited circumstances — mainly if an illegal immigrant was previously charged with a serious crime or was physically caught crossing the border.
The effect, according to Sessions’s office, has been that many habitual immigration violators and the vast majority of illegal immigrants in the United States face no threat of deportation. “The Administration’s priorities,” Session’s writes, “have therefore provided an executive amnesty not only to the great majority of the 12 million living her illegally today . . . but to those who will violate immigration law tomorrow. It is an open invitation for a future immigrant to overstay a visa, or enter the U.S. illegally, knowing that they will be immune from enforcement as long as they avoid being convicted of a felony or other serious crime once here.”
In Texas, for example, ICE routinely releases immigrants who are not considered a threat to safety. In 2011, an ICE officer was reportedly told that he would face disciplinary action for attempting to issue a Notice to Appear to an illegal immigrant. “Instances like these are not the exception, but the rule,” Session writes. “DHS has decided that the Administration’s ‘priorities’ trump the immigration laws passed by Congress.”
The results of this directive can be seen in an ICE report on 2013 removals, which details that 98 percent of the removals were of “convicted criminals, recent border crossers, illegal re-entrants or those previously removed by ICE, in line with agency’s enforcement priorities.”
Sessions calculates that “less than 0.2 percent of the approximately twelve million illegal immigrants and visa overstays in the U.S. were placed into removal proceedings who did not have serious criminal convictions on their record.” Of the estimated 368,000 removals in 2013 (from both within and on the border of the United States), only 10,000, or just around 2.7 percent, were removed having not committed an additional serious offense or a felony.
“In effect, DHS has ordered ICE to largely abandon crime prevention and to wait until after a serious criminal offense has occurred, a conviction has been obtained, and a prison sentence has been served at taxpayer expense,” Session says. “The Administration has abandoned its duty to faithfully execute the law and protect U.S. sovereignty.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.