ICE's Mission Melt 4: Houston, We Have a Problem

By Janice Kephart on October 20, 2010

This week the Houston Chronicle published an investigative piece showing a recent surge in immigration case dismissals in Houston for those without criminal convictions. The crux of the story was that the trend is being spurred "by government attorneys seeking to file joint motions for case dismissal." The story notes that similar trends are witnessed in large cities with high illegal immigrant populations, "including Dallas and Miami." There is a clear link reported between the surge in immigration cases being dismissed by immigration judges – up to 217 in August, when July had only 27 dismissals - and DHS lax enforcement policy.

The excuse provided for not enforcing federal civil immigration law by Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Some cases were dismissed because they were deemed to not meet their burden of proof; a strange turn of events since prosecutors are generally careful about filling their dockets with only winnable cases for both political and efficiency reasons. Others were dismissed, according to ICE, not because they failed to meet their burden of proof, but because of humanitarian concerns pertaining to those illegal aliens with U.S. citizen relatives who had a pending petition filed on their behalf – all evidence which certainly would be considered at trial. However, a very different set of criteria was mentioned by the government attorney representing the federal lawyers seeking the dismissals:

Government attorneys in Houston were instructed to exercise prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis for illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least two years and have no serious criminal history…. To qualify for dismissal, defendants also must have no felony record or any misdemeanor convictions involving DWI, sex crimes or domestic violence.

Bingo. An explanation that is in tandem with the ICE's mission melt spelled out by Assistant Secretary Morton in a June 30, 2010, memorandum to "all ICE Employees" entitled "Civil Immigration Enforcement: Priorities for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens." The "review" of "Houston's immigration court docket" by "Homeland Security officials" (according to the Chronicle) apparently began shortly after the circulation of this memo. In that memo, discussed in depth in "Mission Melt 3: Endangering America," Morton made clear that law enforcement officers are to exercise a form of prosecutorial discretion, delineating out all minor crimes where no one has been hurt – yet – and not holding these illegal aliens or even pursuing them in any way. Robbers, burglars, identity thieves and con men, unconvicted drunk drivers and those driving without a license, are all likely free and clear under the Morton rubric. At least the Houston deputy general counsel for ICE did delineate out that DWI, sex crimes, and domestic violence are not protected crimes for illegal aliens.

However much anyone agrees that prioritizing caseloads is important, proactively seeking to not enforce the law is a different matter. What is clear is that ICE's continued "quiet" parsing out of illegal immigration cases between "look the other way" and "prosecute" is an incredible waste of government resources – instead of reviewing cases for dismissal, time could be spent helping the immigration court expand its operations – and yes, exactly what everyone else is saying: a disregard for law on the books and a back-door amnesty that has no precedent, nor place, in an America already suffering from a grassroots distrust that the Obama administration doesn't care about U.S. security. Houston, we hear you. Unfortunately, it looks like you are not alone.

This is the fourth in a series about the erosion of immigration law enforcement under the Obama administration. Previous posts in the series are here, here, and here.