In the month after Homeland Security Department officials started a review of Houston’s immigration court docket, immigration judges dismissed more than 200 cases, an increase of more than 700 percent from the prior month, reports the Houston Chronicle. The number of dismissals in Houston courts reached 217 in August – up from just 27 in July. In September, judges dismissed 174 pending cases – the vast majority involving immigrants who already were out on bond and had cases pending on Houston’s crowded downtown court docket, where hearings are now being scheduled into 2012.
The new data offer the first glimpse into Homeland Security’s largely secretive review of pending cases on the local immigration court docket. In August, federal attorneys started filing unsolicited motions to dismiss cases involving suspected illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for years without committing serious crimes. News of the dismissals, first reported by the Chronicle, caused a national controversy amid allegations that the Obama administration was implementing a kind of “backdoor amnesty” – a charge officials strongly denied. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to discuss specifics of the docket reviews and dismissals, which are also going on in several other cities, including Dallas and Miami.