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High Country News
February 22, 2014

Rate of undocumented immigrants winning deportation cases is on the rise, many still detained
By Tay Wiles

Though politicians on both sides of the aisle are still demanding to see reform in 2014, it’s unclear how quickly the issue will make a serious comeback. But new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearing House, a research group at Syracuse University, show that an increasing number of unauthorized immigrants are beating deportation charges. Several hundred thousand undocumented people are deported yearly – 368,644 in fiscal year 2013 – for anything from running a stop sign or crossing the border illegally to committing a violent crime. So why has ICE been losing more cases? “We really don’t know,” says Susan Long, a statistician and sociologist with TRAC. “That would be a good question to ask ICE.” (At the time this story was published, ICE had not responded to requests for comment.) Long is wary of drawing conclusions about the reasons. because the trend could be caused by a variety of factors. But one thing’s for sure – she and other researchers were surprised by the numbers. To begin with, Long had thought that the rate of deportation would have actually gone up thanks to a 2011 federal initiative. The push to close thousands of pending deportation cases in an effort to trim the massive backlog and prioritize immigrants who truly pose a threat to public safety, led Long to believe that the rate of immigrants able to fight off deportation would go down, not up. In other words, a more focused deportation strategy was supposed to result in fewer court cases but a higher rate of deportation for those that did in fact make it to court. “They’d be able to deport more people more speedily and (those immigrants would) be the kind of people that would be their high priority targets” Long says. But the new data show that instead, half of the cases brought to court, for one reason or another, are not strong enough to deport people. “Maybe the preparation of cases isn’t done well,” Long offered. Because multiple agencies, including ICE and Customs and Border Patrol are involved in filing and defending the cases, there may be room for sloppy preparation, she speculated. Plus, deportation cases aren’t screened like most court cases are, which would allow prosecutors to see whether the evidence supports the charge, before the case even makes it to court.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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