Most of the attention directed toward the president's executive actions on immigration has been focused on the plan to issue work permits to potentially five million illegal aliens who are the parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs). But these are not the only illegal aliens who are getting work permits as part of the executive amnesty. Starting almost immediately after the president's announcement in November, ICE offices around the country were directed to go through their caseload of illegal aliens in the process of being deported and start releasing all those who, by the stroke of the president's pen, were no longer priorities for enforcement. And, under current policy, many illegal aliens who have criminal records and/or prior deportations also are getting work permits.
According to media reports, as of the end of 2014, more than 600 detained illegal aliens were freed by the executive action, 200 of whom were in Arizona.
Who gets a "get out of jail free" card?
- Illegal aliens with pending criminal cases;
- Illegal aliens with criminal charges that were dismissed or dropped (sometimes local prosecutors drop charges because they believe the alien will be deported);
- Illegal aliens with significant traffic violations, usually drunk driving, but also vehicle theft and hit-and-run;
- Illegal aliens who have been deported once or many times before, but who have minor or no criminal convictions, and who are often filing last-ditch asylum claims;
- Illegal aliens without criminal convictions who are contesting deportation in protracted court cases (at taxpayer expense), which will now be dropped;
- Illegal aliens already ordered deported who are awaiting travel documents, which in some cases are deliberately delayed by their home countries.
One ICE officer tells me: "These aren't even necessarily people with family, kids, ties, or equities in the United States. This directive/policy toward 'non-priorities' applies to anyone simply in the United States as of January 1, 2014, with no significant criminal convictions. Yet even if they were ordered deported by a court and are actually in custody, awaiting removal, per this order, we now cannot execute that order or detain them, as a 'non-priority'. And yes, many will qualify in some way for work permits and leave to remain in the United States."
ICE officers report that a large part of their time is now spent handling dozens of calls every day by detainees to ICE's new "community hotline" established by ICE headquarters, in which detainees claim to be eligible for one of the various forms of executive amnesty; responding to follow-up calls to headquarters personnel assigned to review decisions made by field officers, who have all the details on the case; and answering communications from attorneys and organizations who are in contact with headquarters about these cases. According to one source, these include "complaints about every imagined slight, grievance, or emotional injury". Detainees are informed of the process to submit these complaints and grievances in new glossy posters that adorn detention centers.
As in the case of tens of thousands of criminal releases in the past, neither local law enforcement agencies nor the victims are alerted. ICE has a victim notification program, but it is not widely publicized. Reportedly, ICE is working on system to notify local authorities when it releases felons.
ICE does keep track of aliens who are released, and can disclose to the public and to local authorities the details on the number of releases, the aliens' criminal histories, the severity of the aliens' crimes, the zip code of the aliens' last known address, the nature of any supervision, and the reason for release — including specification of those aliens released under provisions of the various executive amnesty categories. FOIA requests from the public can be submitted here. Journalists can make requests directly to the ICE Office of Public Affairs, and members of Congress can use the appropriate channels to learn the details on ICE releases in their districts.