President Obama’s immigration related executive actions announced on November 20, 2014 set new, department-wide guidance for apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens from the United States. While the enforcement and removal policies will still focus on national security threats, the President authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to significantly expand its use of prosecutorial discretion in the enforcement of law based on the following priorities:
- The highest priority is to remove aliens who pose a danger to national security (aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism); recent unlawful entrants; and persons convicted of felonies.
- Second-highest priority for apprehension and removal focuses on aliens who are convicted of three or more misdemeanors (excluding traffic violations) or convicted of “significant misdemeanor” like domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; unlawful possession of a firearm; drug distribution; or driving under the influence. This secondary priority category also includes recent border crossers, aliens who were apprehended unlawfully entering or re-entering the U.S. after January 1, 2014.
- Lowest priority is accorded to aliens who have a final order of removal issued on or after January 1, 2014.
As a general rule aliens who qualify for asylum or other form of relief should not be targeted, irrespective of the priority list. Also aliens who are currently in removal proceedings but qualify for the expanded DACA or DAPA programs will be referred back to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a case-by-case determination after their deportation cases are terminated.
This new priority list applies to all DHS agencies (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and USCIS), supersedes many previous memorandums regarding removal of undocumented immigrants and will become effective on January 5, 2015.