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The Intercept
November 15, 2017

Federal Prosecutors Are Using Plea Bargains as a Secret Weapon for Deportations
By Brooke Williams

While district offices declined to discuss plea waiver language, materials from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2008 pointed to how some prosecutors might be “hesitant to use it as a general practice.” The same report noted the rarity with which plea agreements had been used to order the deportation of immigrant defendants: 160 times between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2008. In the same time period, ICE removed more than 1 million people, according to data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, run by Syracuse University. Donna Lee Elm, who is in charge of federal public defenders in the Middle District of Florida and an expert on plea bargain waivers, said the Justice Department’s new tactics are affecting many people who “actually should be entitled to be heard in immigration court.” “They’re using the hammer of threat of prosecution and a long prison sentence to give up the rights in an immigration case,” she said. Waiving a hearing in immigration court is not trivial. In the past five years, about 30 percent of noncitizens charged with crimes have succeeded in convincing an immigration judge to let them stay in the country, according to TRAC data.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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