Last year, police pulled over Maria Arreola and detained her because she did not have a driver's license. Her fingerprints were run through a database and authorities recently discovered that she had been deported to Mexico over a decade ago when she tried to illegally enter the country with her two young children. On Thursday, immigration enforcement agents went to Maria's home to arrest her.
Unauthorized immigrants in Maria's position would almost always find themselves sent back to Mexico pretty quickly. But that's not what happened here. Maria's daughter is Erika Andiola, a prominent immigration activist who co-founded the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. After her mother was taken away, she posted a heartfelt video about the incident. Soon thereafter, a full-blown media campaign was underway to get her mother (and brother) released. And that's exactly what happened. Under its "prosecutorial discretion policy," ICE decided to release Maria's mother.
ICE's actions do not mean that Maria's mother is out of the woods quite yet, but it raises an interesting question about how ICE should decide to wield its discretionary authority outlined in several memos issued over the last couple years. According to the New York Times, "Advocates have long argued that the policy [regarding its discretionary authority] has done little to keep families from being broken apart by deportations." Certainly there are plenty of unauthorized immigrants in Maria's shoes detained by ICE who did not benefit from a well-organized media blitz. Does that mean their circumstances are any less deserving?
The exercise of prosecutorial discretion will inevitably be applied inconsistently. We're talking about how hundreds of ICE officials interpret the specifics of individual cases against the backdrop of a set of criteria with built-in wiggle room. Prosecutors in criminal proceedings are faced with the same daunting task every day. However ICE chooses to use its discretionary authority, officials should assess each case while imagining that there is a media campaign being waged for the unauthorized immigrant involved. If the spotlight were shined on the decision, would it still be justified? I'm not making any judgment calls on how ICE uses its authority. But it's worth pointing out that an individual's ability to obtain reprieve should not be based on whether the decision is taking place under the radar versus the media spotlight.