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Immigrants and their lawyers are beginning to see the effects of the White House policy announced last week downgrading some deportation cases. The Department of Homeland Security says it has not officially begun to prioritize all 300,000 cases that are before the nation's immigration courts. But prosecutors are definitely employing newfound discretion, as NPR's Ted Robbins found out.
TED ROBBINS: Judy Flanagan got a call this week, a call she's never gotten before in many years as an immigration lawyer. It was a prosecutor from ICE -Immigration and Customs Enforcement - in Phoenix, suggesting that a college student Flanagan represents ought to ask for her deportation case to be dismissed.
Ms. JUDY FLANAGAN: (Attorney): That never happens. I've asked for prosecutorial discretion in the past too for other students, and that didn't work out too well. They said no.
ROBBINS: This time she didn't even have to ask. The prosecutor apparently looked at the file and thought the student qualified under the new guidelines. The goal is to prosecute more people convicted of crimes or back in the country after having already been deported, and to ease off clients like hers.
So now 22-year-old Ileana Salinas sits with Flanagan in Flanagan's small Phoenix law office.
Ms. FLANAGAN: Do you have any kind of certificates from school?
Ms. ILEANA SALINAS (Student): I have the scholarship awards.
Ms. FLANAGAN: And the other thing that we might want to do is get a police clearance letter from the city of Phoenix.
ROBBINS: A police clearance letter would prove that Salinas has no record. She came to the U.S. as a child, graduated from high school, and is finishing her Bachelor's degree in psychology at Arizona State University. She's wearing a maroon polo shirt with ASU Leadership Scholarship embroidered on it - the award she received.
She says she'd like to go to grad school, but since ICE arrested her and her brother after a traffic stop two years ago, Salinas says she's been in limbo.
Ms. SALINAS: It's just too hard to know whether or not I will be able to complete my Master's degree or if I'm going to be deported before that. Should I even apply?
ROBBINS: If her case is dismissed or administratively closed, it would provide some emotional relief. But her case could be reopened.
Ms. FLANAGAN: It could be stopped at any point. It could stop with a new administration, depending who or what that is. It doesn't give clear rights to anybody.
ROBBINS: People like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer call the policy backdoor amnesty. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to limit immigration, calls it administrative amnesty.
Mr. STEVEN CAMAROTA (Center for Immigration Studies): There's nothing wrong with prioritizing. But prioritizing can't mean that you simply stop altogether enforcing immigration laws on whole categories of people, millions of people.
ROBBINS: Camarota says millions could be affected potentially if enough people picked up by ICE are deemed low priority. If the president wants immigration laws changed, Camarota says he should go to Congress.
Mr. CAMAROTA: It is a cliche but it's true. The rule of law is the foundation on which a democratic republic such as ours is built.
ROBBINS: If her case is dismissed, Salinas might be able to get a work permit. But she would not be eligible for permanent residency - a green card. So she says this is not amnesty, which she defines as forgiveness for wrongdoing.
Ms. SALINAS: I have not done anything wrong, so it's not amnesty. If it would be growing up, I don't see how it is a crime.
ROBBINS: Ileana Salinas is hopeful, but self-preservation has also made her skeptical.
Ms. SALINAS: I just think it's like a helmet - you know, it's something that I build on myself so I don't get hurt more.
ROBBINS: Her high school diploma, scholarship award letters and police clearance will go to ICE soon. Then it's the government's move again.
Ted Robbins, NPR News.
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