For the first time in three years, Raul Zamora’s name does not appear on any upcoming immigration court dockets. The urban studies senior was detained as an undocumented immigrant in November 2009 and is one of thousands of undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation as a result of new deportation guidelines from the Obama administration.
“It doesn’t mean that I’m safe,” Zamora, who was subsequently denied work authorization after his case closed, said. “I’m still in legal limbo.”
This past December, Zamora’s deportation case was closed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department due to a series of new deportation guidelines issued by the Obama administration. The new guidelines encourage prosecutorial discretion, which classifies cases like Zamora’s as low priority to the U.S. government and removes them from the immigration court docket. ICE director John Morton announced these guidelines in an internal memo in June and government agencies have been enforcing them since.
In the memo, Morton advised officers to close low priority cases and focus on high priority deportation cases involving illegal immigrants with a criminal record. Low priority cases include those involving DREAM act students, students who have finished high school, individuals over 65, individuals who were very young when they were brought to the U.S. and individuals with ties to the U.S. military, among others.
These guidelines do not grant undocumented immigrants the right to work, even after their deportation case has been closed. ICE has recently come under fire for the guidelines because although they close certain cases, they do not terminate them. ICE officials can choose to reopen them at any time.
Gregory Palmore, ICE Houston field office spokesman, said Central Texas accounted for 14 percent of the nation’s total deportations in 2010, and the rate has remained high.
Denise Gilman, clinical law professor and Zamora’s lawyer, said the new guidelines are a positive move by the Obama administration but do not do enough to give closure to defendants.
“All the guidelines say is that certain individuals in a category will not be removed,” Gilman said. “It leaves them in a legal limbo where they are not allowed to find work and integrate.”
Gilman said the administration could go further to address issues in the undocumented community by expanding the categories of people who might have their cases closed, terminating the cases, providing work authorization and encouraging officers to follow the new guidelines.
House judiciary chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, opposes the new guidelines and said they are the equivalent to “backdoor amnesty.” Smith said according to recent information by The Associated Press, 1,600 illegal immigrants have benefited from the pilot program in Baltimore and Denver. These immigrants will subsequently apply for work authorization, he said, affecting American workers.
“If these results play out in Texas, thousands of illegal immigrants will be granted administrative amnesty and thousands of Texans will find it harder to get jobs,” Smith said. “How can the Obama administration justify granting work authorization to illegal immigrants when so many American citizens don’t have jobs? Citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for scarce jobs.”
With his fall 2012 graduation looming closer, Zamora said he will continue to fight for work authorization. His case will be featured this Saturday in the Texas Dream Alliance Summit, a clinic offering undocumented students free legal advice on their individual cases.
“ICE needs to look at the human side,” he said. “We’re not just numbers, we’re people. All we want is an education and to make our families proud and for future generations to get an education.”