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Family ties keep some immigrants in U.S.; looking over shoulder

The story is not unusual. An immediate family member comes to the United States on a tourist visa to take care of an ill or dying relative, overstays their visa and spends the rest of their time in this country looking over their shoulder.

While they may find jobs, bear children, and become productive members of our communities, many live in fear that their secret will be discovered. Some don't even let their immediate families in on the secret. Unfortunately, new immigration laws and cooperation between authorities make discovering their secret easier.

Sometimes it can be as innocent as one of our immediate family members getting caught driving without a valid driver's license then taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

But, thanks to a new option called prosecutorial discretion, some illegal immigrants may be safe from deportation because their cases have become administratively closed. For all intents and purposes, this so-called "backdoor amnesty" means ICE will look the other way.

If someone who has fallen under this prosecutorial discretion option commits a crime however, ICE will reopen their file. Otherwise, the backlog of more than 300,000 immigration cases in federal court keeps resources focused on the high priority cases such as national security threats, criminal offenders, recent border crossers and immigration fugitives.

Given the lack of resources and staffing, sometimes ICE chooses to look the other way when illegal immigrants have a network of immediate family support and are productive members of society.

While this type of administrative closure does not put undocumented immigrants on a path any closer to legalizing their status, nor any right to stay in the country permanently, it just means that their file is in a holding pattern ... indefinitely.

Source:, "Facing Legal Limbo, Some Immigrants in NY Have Nowhere Else to Go," Mirela Iverac, May 8, 2012

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