Hundreds of deportation cases may be closed

WASHINGTON — — Federal authorities will recommend closing 366 pending immigration cases in Baltimore after the Department of Homeland Security used the city as a pilot for how to expedite the review of backlogs.

If the court agrees with the recommendation, the 366 won't face prosecution and deportation as illegal aliens. But their legal status won't change; they will be no more eligible for legal residency than they were before.

Results of the pilot emerged Thursday after federal attorneys in the Baltimore Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office spent six weeks reviewing 3,759 cases, prioritizing for deportation illegal immigrants who have committed crimes since arriving in the United States.

As part of the review, they set aside for possible closing the cases of individuals who are elderly, students who came to the country at a young age or victims of domestic violence, among other criteria.

The Obama administration implemented a broader policy in November that gave prosecutors latitude to close deportation cases of illegal immigrants who are elderly or met the other criteria. At the time, officials said they wanted to focus attention on immigrants who have committed crimes after crossing the border.

That policy is already being used nationwide for new cases and some already in the system. But starting in early December, immigration officials in Baltimore and Denver began a pilot program in which they applied the new standards to the backlog of pending cases and shifted resources to expedite that review.

The findings from the two pilot programs underscored the controversy that has surrounded the broader policy. Congress has repeatedly failed to find compromise on a national immigration overhaul, and progress on the issue appears unlikely this year.

In Denver, attorneys reviewed 7,923 cases and recommended closing 1,301.

"If these results play out nationwide, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants will benefit and tens of thousands of Americans will find it harder to get jobs," said Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "The results from the pilot programs show that President Obama's backdoor amnesty only works for illegal immigrants, not Americans."

There are more than 300,000 pending immigration cases in 59 courts across the country. The Obama administration deported 396,906 people from October 2010 through September of this year, and more than half had criminal convictions.