Alfonso Morales-Macias, center, and his family celebrate his one-year deportation deferral granted by ICE in September. GREG BRYAN / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

I wrote a story in Sunday’s Arizona Daily Star about an increase in illegal immigrants in Arizona receiving reprieves from pending deportation — More migrants facing deportation are getting reprieves

I didn't have much room to go in-depth about the statistical trends I reported on, so here's more on three trends:


Deferred action grants increase in Arizona, but not nationally

The idea for this story came to me earlier this year when I wrote about two illegal immigrants in Tucson who received deferred action grants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

• Marlen Moreno Peralta: Cholla grad gets reprieve from order to be deported (Aug. 7)

(Note: Deferred action is a discretionary tool ICE officials can use to help people in special circumstances. It does not give legal permanent residency, but it allows someone to work until his or her status is resolved. The action is usually given for one year at a time but can be renewed as many years as deemed necessary.)

At the time I wrote these stories, the feeling among local immigration attorneys was that once-rare deferred actions grants were on the rise. A  leaked internal memo from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that surfaced last summer backed that theory. The memo suggested giving relief to illegal immigrants were brought here as children, like Moreno, or have been living here since 1996, like Morales-Macias.

"Rather than making deferred action widely available to hundreds of thousands and as a non-legislative version of 'amnesty,' USCIS could tailor the use of this discretionary option for particular groups," the memo said.

I requested the numbers and it turns out that the immigration attorneys were partly right. As I reported in the Sunday story, the numbers provided to me by ICE show that  deferred action grants have gone up in Arizona over the last five years. But, they went down nationally in the same time period. Check out the numbers:

Deferred action granted by ICE in Arizona, by fiscal year:

2005: 15

2006: 10

2007: 15

2008: 14

2009: 21

2010: 31

Deferred action granted by ICE nationally, by fiscal year:

2005: 976

2006: 682

2007: 601

2008: 869

2009: 874

2010: 549

One possible explanation is that while some local ICE offices might be looking more favorably at people that fit the criteria in the leaked memo, there's been no national shift in action, said Mary Kenney, senior attorney at the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C.-based immigrants-rights organization.

A number of factors may contribute to the rise in deferred actions, but there is a strong correlation with the overall increase in deportation by the agency, said ICE spokesman Vincent Picard.

Deportations by ICE in Arizona, by fiscal year:

2005: 42,522                                   

2006: 39,878                                   

2007: 44,657                                   

2008: 76,450                                   

2009: 81,484                                   

2010: 92,592   

But, deportations have gone up nationally too over that time, and deferred action has decreased:

Deportations by ICE in United States, by fiscal year:

2005: 180,189                                   

2006: 207,776                                   

2007: 291,060                                 

2008: 369,221                                 

2009: 387,790                                 

2010: 392,862

Bottom line: nobody knows for sure what’s going on in Arizona and nationally in regard to these deferred action grants. It will be interesting to see what happens with Araceli Torres-Ruiz, the latest illegal immigrant from Tucson being sponsored by a coalition of Southern Arizona immigrant-rights organizations that has successfully lobbied for deportation reprieves for two other Tucson illegal immigrants this year. They are hoping to get her deferred action, too.


Immigration judges granting more relief nationwide

The other category of reprieves that has gone up are the number of cases the federal immigration judges have “terminated” or given “relief.” As I reported in the story, the percentage of such cases doubled in Arizona. That increase has occurred nationally, too, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The Syracuse University-based organization, commonly known as TRAC, gathers, analyzes and distributes data on federal enforcement, staffing and spending.

The organization’s theory is that the rise in reprieves by immigration judges could be attributed to the fact that, in its eagerness to increase its overall deportations, ICE is sending more people before immigration judges who shouldn’t be deported, prompting judges to throw the cases out.

(Note: In cases where immigration judges grant “relief,” a person facing deportation is allowed to stay and is given some kind of legal status based on his or her situation. This can include being granted asylum or legal permanent residency when a person demonstrates exceptional hardship.

If a case is “terminated,” a judge finds someone not deportable as charged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The person could be found to be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident who has not committed a deportable offense.)

Here are the numbers that show the Arizona increase and the national increase:

Percentage of total cases "terminated" or granted "relief" by immigration judges at Arizona's four immigration courts (Eloy, Florence, Phoenix and Tucson), by fiscal year:

2005: 4.8 percent (1,101 out of 22,840 total cases)

2006: 6.6 percent (1,249 out of 18,828 total cases)

2007: 7.7 percent (1,250 out of 16,268 total cases)

2008: 8.0 percent (1,363 out of 17,091 total cases)

2009: 6.9 percent (1,391 out of 20,155 total cases)

2010: 9.3 percent (1,467 out of 15,707 total cases)

SOURCE: Executive Office for Immigration Review

Percentage of total cases "terminated" or granted "relief" by immigration judges at immigration courts nationwide:

2005: 14.2 percent

2006: 17.5 percent

2007: 22 percent

2008: 18.9 percent

2009: 18.9 percent

2010: 23.6 percent

Source: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.


Reprieves much more difficult to obtain at Tucson immigration court

The statistic that most caught local immigration attorneys by surprise was the discrepancy in relief rates at the Tucson immigration court versus the other three in the state. I only had room in the story to devote one paragraph to this:

“In Arizona, most of the increase in reprieves over the past five years has come in the Phoenix, Eloy and Florence immigration courts. In the Tucson court, the number of people getting relief has actually decreased from 10 percent of cases in 2007 to 3 percent in 2010.”

Here are the numbers that show the big difference:

Percentage of total cases "terminated" or granted "relief" by immigration judges at the Eloy, Florence and Phoenix immigration courts, by fiscal year:

2005: 4.8 percent (out of 20,285 total cases)

2006: 6.6 percent (out of 17,117 total cases)

2007: 7.4 percent (out of 14,376 total cases)

2008: 8 percent (out of 15,811 total cases)

2009: 8.4 percent (out of 14,968 total cases)

2010: 12.5 percent (out of 10,481 total cases)

Percentage of total cases "terminated" or granted "relief" by immigration judges at the Tucson immigration courts, by fiscal year:

2005: 5.1 percent (out of 2,555 total cases)

2006: 7.4 percent (out of 1,711 total cases)

2007: 9.7 percent (out of 1,892 total cases)

2008: 8.3 percent (out of 1,280 total cases)

2009: 2.6 percent (out of 5,187 total cases)

2010: 2.9 percent (out of 5,226 total cases)

Local immigration attorneys told me they don’t know why the courts would have such drastically different rates. It begs the question: Are judges applying the law consistently across Arizona immigration courts? Why the great discrepancy?

You’ll notice the total number of cases doubled in this time period at the Tucson court, too. Did the heavy caseload force the two judges in Tucson to change the way they review cases? It’s worth noting that there are two judges in Tucson, compared to two in Florence, three in Phoenix and five in Eloy.

I couldn’t get any answers from the judges about the discrepancy. The Arizona courts forwarded media inquiries to the national office of the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Virginia. The public information officers there — who were previously very helpful in providing the statistics — said they do not provide “interpretations of the statistics we provide.”