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Migrant Nation

Lamar Smith’s push to HALT the DREAM Act

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“Right now, for these people, deferred action, prosecutorial discretion, is what’s keeping them from being deported,” said David Bennion, a Philadelphia-based immigration attorney who’s handled a several so-called DREAM Act cases over the past five years. “With deferred action, ICE will often say they’re not going to deport you right now, but you have to check in periodically. … And ICE could detain you at any check-in, throw you on plane if they think you’re going to run away, which they have done.”

Softer enforcement, at least for some, is exactly what roused Smith. In June, ICE director John Morton laid out specific priorities for his agency, alerting agents to, under ICE’s stated goals, which types of cases merit softer treatment. In the memo, Smith asked agents to take into account if an immigrant has children who are U.S. citizens, or if the immigrant was brought to the U.S. by parents as a young child.

While Smith cites that memo as evidence of Obama’s plot to grant broad-sweeping amnesty, GOP Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the Senate sponsor of the HALT Act, even went so far as to call the DREAM Act itself a “cover for the Obama administration’s amnesty agenda.”

But if Obama is advancing anything of the kind, he’s been pretty coy about it. As DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano noted in a congressional hearing this spring, the administration deported over 395,000 immigrants in 2010 — a record number. During that same time, they exercised deferred action in fewer than 900 cases, a lower number, she said, than in previous years, though she didn’t give further statistics.

SA immigration attorney Curtright said that attacking prosecutorial discretion as some sort of defensive posture against “mass legalization” was “an absurd notion.” That the current administration is exercising the same prosecutorial discretion they’ve always had the authority to do.

Interestingly, it’s Smith that has flipped on the issue.

In 1999 he wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to let immigration authorities decide whether to enforce immigration laws in particular cases, worrying the government was deporting “criminal aliens” who met the extreme-hardship standard. Smith and over two-dozen other House members asked for officials to enact guidelines to ensure consistent use of “prosecutorial discretion.” (PolitiFact has dubbed Smith’s current position with the HALT Act a “Full Flop.”) •

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