South Florida Immigrants Should Be Careful After Immigration Enforcement Announcement

August 22, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami-Dade immigration attorney, I was very interested to see an announcement last week of a major shift in immigration enforcement priorities. As the Associated Press reported, the Obama administration has ordered Homeland Security to prioritize deportation cases involving people convicted of serious crimes and de-prioritize deportation of people who have committed no or minor crimes. The move affects about 300,000 pending deportation cases, which will be reviewed to see which ones meet the new criteria. White House officials said the new guidelines also apply to future cases, meaning law enforcement will be asked to avoid arresting or prosecuting immigrants with no serious criminal history. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the change would focus DHS resources on the highest-priority cases.

The administration’s announcement changed no laws. Individual cases will not be dropped or modified automatically, although an experienced south Florida immigration lawyer may be able to make changes for individual clients. But the change represents a major shift in policy, because previously, law enforcement officers were permitted or even required to deport every immigrant they knew to be illegal. Under previous policy, especially the controversial Secure Communities program, immigrants were being referred for deportation even when they were accused of nothing at all, had charges dropped or were convicted only of misdemeanors. Even some who only came to the police’s attention as victims of crimes ended up in deportation proceedings, critics said. Under the new order, authorities are asked to prioritize people who are known gang members, serious criminals, a threat to national security, recent arrivals or repeat immigration offenders. DHS will review the 300,000 pending cases on a case-by-case basis.

This is great news for members of south Florida’s vibrant immigrant community who are in immigration trouble or could be. But as a Fort Lauderdale immigration violations attorney, I want immigrants in trouble to know that the announcement will not necessarily affect their cases. There are no new laws, and prosecutors may or may not drop cases of people who should be “low-priority” under the new rules. That means that even if you are in the low-priority category, you may still need an attorney’s help to have your case dropped. Also, there are no new forms to fill out, nothing to sign up for and no fees to pay. Do not give money to people who claim they can help you file for “amnesty,” a green card or any other federal benefit. Scammers who call themselves immigration consultants or notarios may claim they can help for less than a lawyer would cost, but they often take clients’ money and disappear.

If you’ve got a deportation case pending or have any other kind of immigration case in south Florida, don’t hesitate to call criminal defense lawyer David Seltzer for help. For a free consultation, send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

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