INS Urged to Use Guidelines for Exercise of Discretion in Initiating Removal Proceedings
January 7, 2000

By now, most of our U.S. representatives and Senators across the U.S. are well aware of the extreme hardship many U.S. families are facing due to the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service initiation of removal (formerly deportation) proceeding against long time unlawful permanent residents who have been convicted of “removable” criminal offenses. In the past 5 years, the U.S. Congress took dramatic measures to eliminate most defenses long time permanent residents could avail themselves of when fighting to remain in the U.S. after a serious, or even semi-serious, criminal conviction.

Now that the INS is acting to enforce the laws enacted by Congress (that is to remove individuals, even immigrants, convicted of any number of crimes, including certain misdemeanors) a group of legislators have requested that the INS act more prudently in initiating removal proceedings against such long time residents.

On November 4, 1999, a bipartisan group of 28 U.S. Representatives, including Democrats Barney Frank and Sheila Jackson-Lee and republicans Henry Hyde and Lamar Smith, signed on to a letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, requesting that the INS develop guidelines for the use of consistent “prosecutorial discretion” in deciding when and against who removal proceedings should be initiated or terminated.

Of particular concern to these U.S. representatives were cases involving the removal of long time residents who immigrated to the U.S. as young children and who committed a “single crime” at the “lower end of the ‘aggravated felony’ spectrum”. When an immigrant falls into this category and has otherwise been a law abiding and self sufficient member of society, the INS, according to these legislators, should have a formal policy in place to guide them in determining on a case by case basis, whether proceedings should be initiated in the first place, especially if such individuals have U.S. citizen spouses or children.

If, when and how commissioner Meissner and the INS will respond remains uncertain. Although, if I were Ms. Meissner I would be inclined to respond by requesting that Congress themselves take up the problem and undo the overly harsh legislation that they themselves enacted in the first place. Specifically, the message should lead Congress to act to reinstate the “hardship to U.S. family members” defenses that were previously available to long time residents in removal proceedings, regardless of the nature of the underlying criminal offense.

Copyright © 2000-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois