The U.S. government is currently reviewing orders to deport thousands of illegal immigrants in two cities, at a time of great division on the issue at federal and local levels. In the past fiscal year, a record 396-thousand undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, with more than 300-thousand cases still pending.
The port city of Baltimore, Maryland, also known by its nickname “Charm City”, is one of the cities where U.S. federal immigration authorities are trying out new ways in dealing with a large caseload of deportation orders.
The other city is high-altitude Denver, Colorado.
In both places, illegal immigrants without violent criminal records may be allowed to stay, while cases against illegal immigrants deemed to have serious criminal records may be expedited.
One politician not happy at all with the experiment, which runs until the middle of January, is Maryland House of Delegates Republican Pat McDonough.
He recently wrote a newspaper opinion piece saying Baltimore was being turned into what he calls an “amnesty city”.
“What this does is it creates a magnet and incentive for people who are in this country without lawful presence to flock to Baltimore. And there are consequences to that,” he said.
McDonough also explained consequences include added costs to provide bilingual services, added pressures on emergency rooms to deal with uninsured illegal immigrants, higher unemployment among legal residents, and threats to public safety.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said it was not conducting interviews on the immigration case review.
In an email statement, it said the U.S. government is trying to focus immigration enforcement resources on those convicted of crimes, recent border crossers and what it called egregious immigration law violators.
Pro-immigrant activists have complained too many non-violent illegal immigrants are being deported, in a rush by the agency to boost statistics and receive more funding.
Mary Giovagnoli, the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center director, calls the current two city review a small step in the right direction.
“Truly moving on is really messy and like any major social issue you do not resolve it right away. In that sense, it is not unlike the civil rights movement or the voting rights movement or any other number of issues that took years and years to really resolve and get right because you are both changing the laws, and you are changing hearts and minds,” she said.
The review comes at a time when lawmakers in more and more U.S. states are passing tough anti-immigration laws.
But the federal government is pushing back on that front as well, using challenges in the court system and saying it has exclusive authority to regulate immigration.
There have also been protests by those favoring fewer deportations. In some states like Alabama, civil rights leaders recently marched for families to be kept together, as in recent months, detained or deported illegal immigrant parents were separated from their U.S.-born citizen children.
Activists in other cities, like Iowa City, are going even further, seeking to make the college town Iowa’s first so-called sanctuary city to protect illegal immigrants from federal immigration law.
More than 30 cities in the United States have gone this route, with some even banning officials from asking people about their immigration status. Activists say it saves the city money while also creating a stronger sense of community -- claims staunch opponents to illegal immigration find outrageous.