MIAMI -- Immigration judges are dismissing deportation cases in greater numbers around the country.
In August and September, for example, judges at Miami immigration court dismissed 631 deportation cases compared with 449 in June and July.
In fact, the 324 cases immigration judges dismissed in August was the highest monthly case termination figure in the last 12 months, according to statistics the Justice Department's immigration court system released last week.
Gerda Pierre, 22, was among the hundreds of immigrants in deportation proceedings whose cases were recently dismissed in Miami immigration court.
Pierre, a Bahamian-born Haitian, learned Oct. 7 when she appeared in immigration court that she no longer faced deportation and would be allowed instead to apply for a green card.
"I felt like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders," said Pierre, who had been in proceedings since 2006. "I felt free."
While immigration court officials would not speculate on why judges are terminating more cases than before, some attorneys said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement trial attorneys now seem more willing to drop deportation cases against certain foreign nationals.
But other attorneys in Miami said they had not noticed any change in ICE attitude and that any increase may be tied to the federal government's decision to grant Temporary Protected Status or TPS to undocumented Haitian immigrants.
"We haven't seen any significant change and have heard that some ICE officials believe the Morton memo simply reiterated existing policy," said Cheryl Little, executive director of Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. "We've had some cases terminated lately, but that likely would have happened regardless."
Still, some say ICE trial attorneys are more willing to apply recent guidelines by ICE chief John Morton that allow them to drop deportation cases against immigrants who have pending or approved petitions, known as I-130s, filed on their behalf by a U.S. relative.
"They are terminating cases of people with pending or approved I-130s; that's what's going on," said Wilfredo Allen, a prominent Miami immigration attorney. "If you have people who can adjust status through family, why keep them in court? We are seeing this on a more systematic basis, while before it was more sporadic."
Morton issued a memorandum in August outlining a new ICE policy under which trial attorneys were ordered to "promptly dismiss proceedings" against foreign nationals facing deportation who had a petition filed on their behalf by a relative.
Foreign nationals whose deportation cases are dismissed because they qualify for permanent residence through an I-130 can then seek a green card through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Homeland Security agency that oversees immigration benefits.
Gillian M. Brigham, an ICE spokeswoman, said case terminations derived from multiple factors, not just ICE trial attorneys filing motions to dismiss.
"It is important to note that administrative immigration cases can be terminated for a variety of reasons other than ICE filing a motion to dismiss," she said.
Of the cases terminated in Miami in August and September, only a few were the result of ICE motions to dismiss, she said.
"In August, approximately 26 cases in Miami were terminated based on an ICE motion to dismiss," Brigham said. "In September, approximately 30 cases in Miami were terminated based on an ICE motion to dismiss. These cases only account for a percentage of the total immigration court cases that were terminated in Miami in August and September."
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