The review of thousands of immigration cases pending in federal courts in Denver and Baltimore would benefit certain people by not forcing them to leave the country, but at the same time would leave them in a legal limbo that would keep them from regularizing their status, several leaders said.
During a conference call with the press placed by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Laura Lichter, president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that immigrants should learn all they can about the pilot program in Denver and Baltimore.
On Nov. 25, the federal government announced that immigration courts in those two cities had been chosen for a pilot program in which prosecutors will review thousands of immigration cases, giving priority to deporting criminals or people thought to pose a threat to national security.
Eventually the lessons learned in Denver and Baltimore will be expanded to more than 300,000 cases pending nationwide, Lichter said.
“Prosecutorial discretion doesn’t refer to a single point in the process; it’s a principle that should be implemented at every step of the process,” she said, while adding that designating a case as low priority is not the same as canceling the original deportation order.
For that reason she said she prefers to speak of “frozen cases,” since if an immigrant commits a crime or if some other immigration irregularity is discovered, the case could be reopened.
Furthermore, immigrants with frozen cases do not receive visas, residence permits or work permits.
“That’s what has happened to me. My hearing was canceled, but I don’t know what will happen with my deportation. I’m in limbo. I can’t leave the country, but on the other hand I’m not here legally. I can’t work. I can’t do anything. I feel useless,” said Raul Cardenas, a Mexican immigrant who in 2002 married a U.S. citizen and since then has tried to regularize his status.
In April, Cardenas received his deportation order, which was suspended in mid-November following a national campaign by the Unitarian Universalist Church calling attention to the case.
For his part, Gerardo Noriega, 21, an activist who testified in February before the Colorado legislature in favor of opportunities for undocumented students, has a deportation order that could be effective this month after a postponement announced in May.
“I came to this country when I was 9 years old. I’m really an American. I’ve spent almost my whole life here. This is my home. I just want to contribute to the country and give back something of what I have received,” Noriega said.
Julie Gonzales, CICR’s director of organizing, said that while the pilot program “could provide relief to hundreds of immigrants, it is not a substitute for real immigration reform.”
“There are millions of people in this country who need to be put on a path to citizenship, who are not going to be affected by this limited program,” she said.