DHS' Lenient Enforcement Priorities  Beneficial to Fearful Applicants
March 14, 2015

In conjunction with President Obama’s sweeping announcement of Executive Action on November 20, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an internal policy memorandum that sets forth the DHS’ current policy regarding who it now seeks to apprehend, detain, and remove from the United States.  The memo, entitled “Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants,” was issued in order to provide clear guidance to DHS officers as to which undocumented immigrants it deems a priority for removing from the US.  The priorities outlined in the memo are designed to ensure that the US minimizes its threat to national security, public safety, and border security. 

The memo recognizes that the DHS does not have unlimited resources to apprehend, detain, and remove all undocumented immigrants from the US.  Rather, it wisely recognizes that its limited resources must be focused on those undocumented individuals who pose an actual threat to the safety of the US and those who threaten border security.  The memo details three levels of individuals that it prioritizes for deportation.

The “Priority 1” category are those deemed to be the highest priority for deportation as they pose the greatest threat to national security, public safety, and border security.  This includes: A) individuals engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise pose a danger to national security; B) individuals caught at the border or ports of entry attempting to unlawfully enter the US; C) individuals convicted of criminal street gang crimes or participation in an organized criminal gang; D) individuals convicted of a criminal felony; and E) individuals convicted of an “aggravated felony” under the immigration laws.  Individuals in the Priority 1 category are to be prioritized for removal unless “there are compelling and exceptional factors that clearly indicate the [individual] is not a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.”

The “Priority 2” category, which addresses lesser criminal violations and new immigration violators, are those deemed to be the second-highest priority for deportation.  This includes: A) individuals convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors; B) individuals convicted of a “serious misdemeanor”, such as domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; driving under the influence; or other crime wherein the individual was sentenced to at least 90 days of jail; C) individuals who entered the US unlawfully and have not been continuously physically present in the US since Jan. 1, 2014; and D) individuals who the DHS considers to have significantly abused the visa or visa waiver programs.  The memo states that individuals in the Priority 2 category “should be removed” unless “there are factors indicating the [individual] is not a threat to national security, public safety, or border security….”

The “Priority 3” category, which is the lowest enforcement priority, includes individuals who have been issued a final order of removal on or after Jan. 1, 2014.  The memo states that these individuals should be removed, unless the individual can show that he is “not a threat to the integrity of the immigration system or there are factors suggesting the [individual] should not be an enforcement priority.” 


The memo makes it clear that individuals unlawfully residing in the US who do not fall within any of these categories should not be a priority for the DHS to apprehend and deport.  Individuals who are not within the Priority 1-3 categories should be removed only when removal of the individual “would serve an important federal interest.” 


Because of the DHS’ clearly defined directives as to who it seeks to apprehend, detain, and deport, this is the prime opportunity for individuals who may otherwise be afraid to move forward with seeking solutions to their immigration dilemmas.  For example, individuals who may have wrongfully obtained their permanent resident status because they were not truly qualified, such as an unmarried child who was in fact already married; or someone who entered with an assumed name or otherwise committed fraud; or someone who was issued a deportation order before Jan. 1, 2014.  Presuming there is a legitimate basis for correcting the violation, then this is the time to seize the chance at doing so as the DHS’ priorities make it clear that the likelihood it would result in the individual’s apprehension, detention, or removal are not too likely.  Individuals need to move beyond their fear and seek competent legal counsel who can hopefully help with remedying their situation and living with the respect and dignity that all deserve.​


For further information, please schedule an appointment with an attorney at Aquino & Loew, Immigration Law Specialists. Please also connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.  Aquino & Loew also handles family law and criminal matters.  Providing Personalized Service Nationwide & Abroad Since 1996.

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