Samuel Lizius, 25, convicted in 2008 of felony cocaine possession, was deported on the first post-earthquake flight to Haiti and jailed for 11 days. (Photo by Jacob Kushner.)

By Jacob Kushner
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The Department of Homeland Security today will announce plans to review pending deportation cases in order to close those involving immigrants with no criminal record or a record of minor offenses, according to The New York Times.

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This announcement comes four days after the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed  in a story published by news organizations nationwide that the Obama administration has not followed its own policy of prioritizing deportations of only serious criminals for deportation to Haiti.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped deporting Haitians after the January 2010 earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. The agency issued a statement in April saying the government resumed deportations this year because a U.S. Supreme Court decision required detainees to be released from ICE custody after 180 days. That requirement, ICE officials said, would have placed “some detained Haitian nationals with significant criminal records into U.S. communities, which in turn poses a significant threat to the American public.”

FCIR’s investigation identified three immigrants who were deported to Haiti in August and September despite having been convicted of non-violent crimes. In 2008, 74 percent of all Haitian deportees had no criminal convictions, according to ICE data, and in the three months leading up to Haiti’s earthquake, 67 percent of deportees were not criminals.

In January, FCIR reported that ICE’s Secure Communities program targeted non-criminal immigrants for deportation even though the program was designed to find serious offenders. In that investigation, FCIR found that 28 percent of the 75,461 immigrants deported from Secure Communities’ inception in 2008 to January 2011 were non-criminal immigrants.

ICE Director John Morton in March and June established guidelines for ICE officials to use discretion when deciding which deportation cases to pursue, with particular consideration given to an individual’s criminal history and whether he or she poses a threat to national security or public safety. In August, President Barack Obama said ICE will prioritize deportations of immigrants with serious criminal histories.

To ease pressure on the nation’s overburdened immigration courts, ICE now will review 300,000 cases in an effort to focus on the most serious criminals, according to The New York Times.

FCIR’s investigation of deportations to Haiti, which was supported in part by the Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Investigative News Network, was published this week by newspapers including the Miami Herald and San Francisco Chronicle and by nonprofit news organizations including the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and California Watch. A companion radio report airs today on Florida’s NPR stations.

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