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Immigration review pilot program that may close low-priority cases coming to Denver

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Local immigration advocates are cautiously optimistic about a pilot project to review open immigration cases in Denver and close those deemed to be of low priority. The program, described in this New York Times story, comes on the heels of a memo from the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use discretion in cases such as those of undocumented students.

The pilot program will begin in Denver and Baltimore on December 4 and last six weeks. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document provided to Westword describes the program like this:

Over the course of the six- week pilot, an intra-agency team of attorneys from ICE, USCIS, and CBP will review the cases on the non-detained dockets in the Denver and Baltimore immigration courts based on the Prosecutorial Discretion Memorandum and guided by a set of more focused criteria. During this time, DOJ's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has agreed to shift judges from the nondetained docket in those jurisdictions to hear detained cases, in order to enhance the processing of such detained cases.

Another document provided to Westword called "Guidance to ICE Attorneys" lays out the criteria for reviewing the cases. It says that cases in which an immigrant is a suspected terrorist, a convicted criminal, a gang member or a repeat offender should be prioritized for possible deportation. On the flip side, cases in which an immigrant is a child, a senior citizen, a high school graduate, a member of the military, a crime victim, an upstanding citizen or has family members who are U.S. citizens should be considered low priority.

The pilot program is scheduled to end on January 13, 2012. Once it's over, the ICE document says, the Department of Homeland Security "will promptly review that data and other implementation outcomes and, where appropriate, consult with (the Department of Justice) to determine, on an expedited basis, the best methods to implement these processes on an ongoing basis nationwide."

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition says it's encouraged. In a statement, CIRC president Ricardo Perez said, "The fact that one of the review teams is based in Denver will give us an opportunity to monitor their work, inform our communities about the process, and see firsthand what the impact of this review becomes."

Federal officials have not commented on why Denver was chosen as a pilot program site.

However, CIRC spokesman Alan Kaplan says it's unclear how the review process will work. "The questions that still remain are, how are they going to lift up the cases, what kind of community input there will be and how will this play out?" Kaplan says. "We see the guidelines and we're tentatively excited, but nothing is in play yet."

Several individual cases that have made headlines could be candidates for the review, including those of twenty-year-old Gerardo Noriega, mother-of-three Jeanette Vizguerra and Sujey Pando, who married her partner, a U.S. citizen, in Iowa in 2010.

More from our Immigration archives: "ACLU urges schools to adopt policy banning school police officers from working with ICE."

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