A New Year traditionally inspires hopes of better things to come, but for a large part of the undocumented immigrant community, 2016 is turning out to be a stark season of hysteria, anxiety, and fear. Late last month, right around Christmas Eve, there were rumblings of an extensive and aggressive ICE operation underway to sweep up illegal aliens from Central America (primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson confirmed this on January 4, 2016 in a public press release regarding Southwest Border Security. Since then, within a matter of days, over 100 individuals have been rounded up and taken into custody. Aside from the targeting of a specific population, what is perhaps more alarming is the alleged manner in which people are being apprehended. According to some accounts, ICE agents have conducted the raids utilizing extreme tactics that run roughshod over basic constitutional protections.
While most non-US citizens are generally aware that being convicted of a major crime may render them deportable, many will often underestimate the impact of certain traffic offenses on their immigration status. In New Jersey, for example, there is a traffic offense that is often charged as a companion offense to criminal offenses involving drugs, namely, 39:4-49.1 Drug Possession by Motor Vehicle Operator. This particular offense can be particularly virulent to a non-citizen because it is often dismissed as a something that is not criminal when, in fact, it is actually quite nasty.
President Obama's Executive Order on Immigration not only provided a reprieve to millions of undocumented aliens in the US, but also signaled a change in enforcement priorities. Under a new November 2014 memorandum entitled Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security has been ordered to re-prioritize whom it should be actively seeking to remove. This policy wide guidance applies to all immigration arms of DHS including US Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE), US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It also, importantly, rescinds and replaces previous memoranda including the famous 2011 Morton Memos that paved the way for Prosecutorial Discretion Requests. People who applying for DAPA relief should also be aware of this memo, as deferred action will not be extended to those who are considered enforcement priorities.