Priority Enforcement Program Aims to Deport Serious Illegal Criminals First

Priority Enforcement Program Aims to Deport Serious Illegal Criminals First

By Alicia Neaves
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - One of the components of Obama's Executive Action on immigration is to deport the serious offenders first.

This is all a part of the Priority Enforcement Program, which went into effect on January 5.

Under the George W. Bush administration, there was a similar program aimed at deportation called "Secure Communities," which received widespread criticism and - according to the Department of Homeland Security - served as a symbol for general hostility toward immigration law enforcement.

But now there's the Priority Enforcement Program which aims to deport criminals first.

"They are trying to prioritize law enforcement's focus on the more serious offenders," Veterans Rights Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Cassandra Champion, said.

It's all based on a list of priorities. Priority one consists of the criminals who get deported first. They are considered as anyone who is a threat to national security, border security and public safety. Priority two consists of all convicted of three or more misdemeanors other than traffic offenses and immigration violators. Priority three are those who've been issued a deportation order on or before January 1, 2014.

"Now it's a notification process. So, local law enforcement now will notify ICE when that person who may be deported is up for release," Champion said.

In the "Secure Communities" program, law enforcement could hold an individual up to 48 hours longer than required. That's called an "ICE hold." From there, ICE determines if that person should be deported.

"It created distrust between people in the community and law enforcement because maybe communities here who have a large Hispanic population will feel uncomfortable calling the police to report any crime, because if they have an undocumented status then they could be arrested for any minor thing," Champion said.

Involvement in the new program isn't mandatory for local officials. The Texas Civil Rights Project discourages local participation. They say this responsibility should be left in the hands of ICE.

To get a better feel of the number of ICE holds each month in Ector County, TCRP sent in an open records request. They found that from January to June 2014, 30 inmates were placed on ICE holds per month.

Civil rights advocates suspect the number of holds will drastically decrease under the new program.