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Some North Carolina immigrants could have deportation suspended

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported its highest-ever number of deportations last fiscal year. The agency removed approximately 400,000 people from the country. Despite setting a deportation record, a limit on resources prevents the government from pursuing every immigration case. Therefore, the government has announced a new immigration process that prioritizes certain cases while putting others on hold.

ICE has said it will devote its attention to cases involving immigrants with criminal records and those it considers dangers to national security. Immigrants who fit into neither category may have their court cases suspended through an exercise of "prosecutorial discretion." Although a suspension could last for quite a long time, there are no guarantees on its length, and ICE could in theory choose to re-open the case whenever it wanted.

Therefore, many immigrants and their attorneys are carefully weighing the decision to accept an offer of prosecutorial discretion. The suspension of one's case often provides a temporary alternative to seeking a green card or asylum. Some immigrants are accepting the suspension because they need more time to obtain permanent residency through a green card.

But others are declining ICE's offer and are instead going to court to get a green card because permanent residency provides a palpable level of security that prosecutorial discretion does not. An immigrant whose case is suspended could still face deportation proceedings in the future. Yet placing one's immigration case on hold can have benefits in some circumstances. Therefore, the decision whether to accept an offer of suspension from ICE or pursue a green card is a strongly personal one, linked to the facts of each immigrant's case. Immigrants should know the potential benefits and consequences of each option before deciding on a course of action.

Source: Associated Press, "Discretion program a mixed bag for immigrants," April 28, 2012.

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