National Immigration Law Center
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Our mission is to defend & advance the rights & opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members.

Administrative Relief & Prosecutorial Discretion


NILC Administrative Relief Priorities

While NILC urges Congress to pass broad and humane immigration reform that provides a clear roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans, President Obama has the legal authority and moral responsibility to act now and prevent the citizens of tomorrow from being deported today. NILC has submitted recommendations to the Obama administration that include actions it can take immediately to decrease deportations and increase the number of people with lawful immigration status. Because NILC’s mission is to defend and advance the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants, we are prioritizing the administrative policy reforms described in this issue brief because they would have the most impact on our constituents.


How the Obama Administration Can Use Executive Authority to Stop Deportations

The U.S. Department of Homleand Security (DHS) has the capability to expand its prosecutorial discretion guidelines. There are several existing forms of prosecutorial discretion, including existing DHS administrative remedies, that can be expanded. This table also describes some forms of discretionary relief that are based on the immigration statute, such as temporary protected status (TPS). The table's main categories are "Form of relief," "Description," "Authority for relief," "Who is eligible?," "Is a work permit available?," and "Example."

See also: Administrative Relief Fast Facts (PDF) — the same general information in less detail.

See also: Letter to DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson and Atty. Gen. Eric Holder (PDF) providing recommendations regarding immediate actions the Obama administration can take to decrease deportations, increase the number of people with immigration status, and ensure that all immigrants’ labor and civil rights are protected.

What DHS Can Do Right Now

Much attention is focused on the possibility that federal immigration reform legislation being considered in Congress will resolve many of the problems created by our broken immigration system. In the meantime, however, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has many practical options for ensuring that its detention and deportation system does not separate families and force the removal of the members of our communities who, ultimately, should benefit from federal immigration reform legislation. DHS should do three things:

 Government Memos, Letters, FAQs

Letter from DHS secretary Janet Napolitano regarding
new prosecutorial discretion policy

"Together with [DOJ], we have initiated an interagency working group to execute a case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities. The working group will also initiate a case-by-case review to ensure that new cases placed in removal proceedings similarly meet such priorities. In addition, the working group will issue guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration to be given to compelling cases involving a final order of removal." (Aug., 18, 2011)

Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens (PDF)

This memo was released in conjunction with an announcement from ICE (PDF) about "improvements" to the "Secure Communities" program. (John Morton, Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, June 17, 2011).

Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses, and Plaintiffs (PDF)

This memo was released in conjunction with an announcement from ICE (PDF) about "improvements" to the "Secure Communities" program. (John Morton, Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, June 17, 2011)