In the memo, ICE Chief John Morton reminds agents that they can practice "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding which people to attempt to deport in court. The Obama administration has consistently said its priority is to deport illegal immigrants who pose a safety threat to their communities or have engaged in immigration fraud. But this memo lays out that position in far greater detail, asking agents to take "particular care and consideration" when illegal immigrants are veterans, minors or elderly, have been in the United States for a long time, are the victims of crimes, or are pregnant or suffer from health problems.
Ali Noorani of the pro-reform National Immigration Forum told The Lookout that though the memo is largely a compilation of the administration's stated immigration priorities, it is noteworthy for stressing that ICE agents at many levels can use prosecutorial discretion.
"At the end of the day it means that an attorney within ICE, instead of spending his time prosecuting a landscaper, can go after a criminal," Noorani says.
He points out that Clinton official Doris Meissner articulated a similar policy of prosecutorial discretion in 2000 for the precursor agency to ICE, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Obama has presided over a record-breaking number of deportations. ICE increased the number of convicted criminals it deported by 70 percent in two years--from 114,415 in 2008 to 195,722 in 2010
, by using its "Secure Communities" fingerprinting program that scours local jails for illegal immigrants. Nearly 400,000 people were deported in fiscal 2010, about half of them with no criminal records
. Morton said 400,000 represents the maximum number of deportations the agency can handle per year.