BREAKING - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: February 24, 2021
Contact: Shruti Lakshmanan, Transition Manager
[email protected], 734-697-3933
Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office Announces Comprehensive New Policies On Immigration Issues
Policies Protect Noncitizen Crime Survivors; Seek To Avoid Unnecessary Immigration Consequences For Participants in the Justice System
Ann Arbor, MI – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit today announced a comprehensive suite of new policies geared towards protecting noncitizens involved in the criminal legal system.
The 13-page policy directive, issued to Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys Wednesday morning, covers a broad swath of issues—ranging from coordination with federal immigration authorities, to certification of visas for victims of human trafficking, to avoiding immigration consequences related to a criminal conviction. The policy notes the importance of building trust in immigrant communities, citing studies showing that “a general distrust of the criminal legal system makes noncitizens less likely to report serious crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery, and rape.”
Under the policy, the Prosecutor’s Office will not coordinate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Nor will the Prosecutor’s Office report noncitizen civilians, crime survivors, witnesses, or defendants to ICE. The policy emphasizes the importance of building trust with noncitizen crime survivors so they feel empowered to report crimes. In other jurisdictions, the policy notes, noncitizen survivors—particularly domestic violence survivors—have frequently “been detained by federal immigration authorities as they are preparing to testify against their abuser.”
Relatedly, the policy prioritizes the issuance of special “T-Visas” (for noncitizen victims of human trafficking) and “U-Visas” (for noncitizens who affirmatively assist law enforcement investigations). The policy notes that noncitizen survivors of human trafficking are often particularly vulnerable, as traffickers know “that their immigration status makes them less likely to report their traffickers.” For that reason, the Prosecutor’s Office will henceforth freely provide T-Visa and U-Visa certification to noncitizens.
As to criminal defendants, the policy instructs assistant prosecutors to avoid case outcomes which will adversely affect a defendant’s immigration status, where those “consequences can be avoided consistent with public safety.” The policy notes that, as a result of state-level criminal convictions, “hundreds of thousands of longtime U.S. residents have been sent back to their native countries for small, non-violent infractions, often without courtroom trials.”
The policy highlights the stories of three noncitizens who were slated for deportation for minor offenses. Those are:
- Lundy Khoy, a refugee college student who was recommended for deportation to Cambodia for a drug offense, even though she had lived in the United States virtually her entire life;
- Moones Mellouli, a Tunesian math professor with a U.S. citizen fiancée who was deported for storing four Adderall pills in a sock; and
- Jimmy Aldaoud, a longtime Michigan resident who entered the United States as a refugee when he was just 15 months old, but was deported to Iraq in 2019 following an arrest for larceny. A diabetic, Aldaoud “had no way of obtaining insulin in a country where he knew nobody, had no money, and did not know the language.” Days after recording a video begging to return to the United States, Aldaoud was found dead in a Baghdad apartment.
The policy references the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center’s Guide for Prosecutors which was released this week. The policy states that assistant prosecutor should consult that guide “wherever a question arises regarding the immigration consequences of a criminal charge.”
The directive instructs assistant prosecuting attorneys to consider alternative dispositions for lower-level charges that carry immigration outcomes, “possibly in exchange for additional monetary or non-monetary sanctions, or a longer sentence.”
“Today’s policy directive, fundamentally, is about building trust in our immigrant communities,” Savit said. “We know that a fear of collaboration with federal law enforcement makes noncitizens less likely to report serious crimes. That makes all of us less safe.”
“We are going to do everything in our power to protect noncitizens—most prominently trafficking victims—who come through our system,” Savit emphasized. “That is why we are drawing a line in the sand and not collaborating on federal immigration enforcement efforts. It is also why we are prioritizing the issuance of special visas for noncitizen crime survivors.”
“On the other side of the equation, we cannot ignore the draconian consequences that state level convictions have caused for noncitizens,” Savit continued. “To be absolutely clear, we will continue to charge serious crimes appropriately—whether or not they carry immigration consequences. But it is unjust to forcibly separate a noncitizen from their family, friends, and community for activity that would not even carry jail time for a U.S. citizen.”
The full policy directive is available for the public to view at https://www.washtenaw.org/DocumentCenter/View/19692/Immigration-Policy. Savit has pledged that his office’s policy directives will be made publicly available.