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Few Immigrants Benefit From “Prosecutorial Discretion”
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Few Immigrants Benefit From “Prosecutorial Discretion”

During Barack Obama’s presidency, a record number of undocumented immigrants have been deported. Then in 2011, Obama announced his administration would use its “prosecutorial discretion” to close deportation cases of some immigrants who have no serious criminal background and have U.S.-born children and other ties to the community.

Immigrant advocates called the prosecutorial discretion announcement a victory, and it gave many immigrants hope.But, one year later, only 132 deportations cases in Chicago immigration court have been closed, according to the database maintained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which monitors immigration courts.

In an investigation for the Chicago Reporter, Maria Zamudio analyzed court records and followed the case of a Mexican immigrant with two U.S.-born sons. A follow-up was published six months later, with the outcome of the case.

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Maria’s Story Behind the Story

When President Obama announced he would prioritize what immigrants get deported and would grant “prosecutorial discretion” I was suspicious about the actual implementation. And that’s how I started this project, asking a simple question how many cases are being closed administratively. When I saw that the number was low, that’s when the story really started.

Thanks to the training I received with IJJ, I was able to use data from TRAC for this story. Also, following the advice Martha Mendoza I was able to file a FOIA to obtain the records of the undocumented immigrant I wrote about. I think having his records, really helped me illustrate the story. I wasn’t aware I could file a FOIA and a privacy waiver form to obtain such records.

The IJJ training also helped me launch a series of stories I’m still pursuing. Following the fellowship, I filed a several FOIAs and having mentors like Dianne and Martha helped me to pursue those requests.

Dan’s presentation about immigration law not only helped me understand how the system works but also triggered my curiosity. There are things that happen in the immigration court that would never happen in the criminal justice system. That was the starting point my “Speedy Removals” investigation. After a year of fighting for data and records, we found that in the Chicago Area of Responsibility, which includes six states including Illinois, about 57 percent of all the deportations carried out between fiscal year 2008 and 2011 by-passed the immigration court system.

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