The Obama administration has suspended immigration-court dockets in Seattle and three other cities while government attorneys review thousands of deportation cases, with an eye out for those who may qualify for a reprieve.

Share story

The immigration courts in Seattle and three other cities that handle cases of nondetained immigrants facing deportation will close for an unspecified period of time while government lawyers review their deportation cases, with an eye out for those who may qualify for reprieve.

The suspension of immigration court dockets in Seattle, New Orleans, Orlando, Fla., and Detroit is being done as pilot programs in a broader plan announced last year by the Obama administration to focus its resources on removing those immigrants who pose public-safety and national-security threats.

The process of applying prosecutorial discretion in this review of more than 300,000 pending deportation cases means those immigrants who pose little to no criminal threat could have their deportation case closed, although the action leaves them in a sort of immigration limbo.

Some Congressional Republicans and anti-illegal-immigrant groups have called it “backdoor amnesty.” The break from immigration court in these cities will free up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys to review cases there, the Department of Homeland Security officials said. Nationwide, ICE has already reviewed more than half of the more than 300,000 cases.

Seattle immigration attorney Shannon Underwood said local ICE attorneys have been applying prosecutorial discretion for some time, with a growing number of her firm’s clients without criminal records having their deportation cases closed.

Underwood said ICE’s chief counsel Rafael Sánchez told immigration attorneys at a recent regional meeting that ICE attorneys are currently reviewing every case and closing 17 percent of them — a higher rate than in most areas of the country.

The pilot projects in Seattle and the other cities follow tests in Denver and Baltimore, where ICE attorneys reviewed 11,682 cases — 1,600 of which were recommended for suspension.

During the time the court is closed, the Seattle immigration judges will be redeployed to courts elsewhere to handle the cases of detained immigrants.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.co. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.