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December 21, 2014

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Administrative dismissals of immigration cases in Las Vegas fall below national average

Increase in number would ease burden on federal courts, critics say

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Sam Morris

This is an intake room at the Henderson Detention Center on Oct. 16, 2013. The center contracts with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to house immigration detainees.

Among thousands of immigration cases closed each year in Las Vegas, only a minuscule number are dismissed at the discretion of federal prosecutors, according to data released last week by scholars.

Of 4,534 cases closed in Las Vegas between October 2012 and March 31, about 3 percent were tossed administratively by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to ICE data surveyed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. By comparison, nearly 7 percent of all U.S. immigration cases were closed this way.

Dismissing more immigration cases would alleviate congestion in federal courts, said TRAC co-director Susan Long, noting more than half of all criminal prosecutions in the federal court system deal with illegal entry into the country.

"What people don't realize is that our entire system of law enforcement runs with prosecutorial discretion. In most crimes in the country, citizens are never prosecuted," Long said. "There's never enough money for the police and the prosecutors and the court system and jails and prisons, so one prioritizes."

Cities with administrative dismissal rates comparable to Las Vegas include San Antonio, New York and Newark, N.J.

TRAC has monitored so-called "prosecutorial discretion" case dismissals since a 2011 directive from then-ICE Director John Morton, who discouraged agents from detaining immigrants without criminal records.

The policy change reportedly accounted for more than 16,000 immigration court cases being closed in 2013, up from 9,700 a year earlier.

About 5 percent of the 587 cases between October 2012 and March 31 in Reno were resolved using prosecutorial discretion, the new data show. Facilities in Tucson, Ariz., and Los Angeles had among the highest rates for cases dismissed administratively by ICE — 31 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Fatma Marouf, co-director of UNLV's Law Clinic, said Las Vegas' low administrative dismissal rate wasn't surprising, noting that inmates often languish at the Henderson Detention Center for unusually long periods despite having clean criminal records.

ICE officials must do a better job of weeding out low-priority cases, Marouf said.

"They're still following very old orders," she said.

TRAC identifies cases closed with prosecutorial discretion through codes published in ICE data, Long said. ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley questioned that method, noting the TRAC data set appeared incomplete.

"Because ICE officers, agents and attorneys exercise prosecutorial discretion on a daily basis throughout the system, the total number of cases cannot be tracked since it applies to a broad range of discretionary enforcement decisions," Haley said. She noted the agency had as a priority deporting criminals and egregious immigration law violators.

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