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Cile Precetaj of Troy shows the report record from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement telling her to be at the airport in 24 hours. Such notices are common, said immigration lawyer Chris Veerland. ‚??We call ‚??em suitcase letters,‚?Ě he said. The government is closing nearly 8% of cases nationwide based on prosecutorial discretion, but immigration lawyers say that‚??s not enough. / Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT -- Every Tuesday at Detroit Metro Airport, a large plane fills up with immigrants being deported.

Some are criminals. Others are just here unlawfully - many with U.S.-born children, jobs and no criminal backgrounds.

Such was the case of Albanian immigrant Cile Precetaj, a mother of three American children who immigration lawyers say represents the plight of many like her. The Troy woman with no criminal record got a 24-hour deportation notice, ordering her to report to Metro Airport last Tuesday morning. She defied the order.

After her story appeared in the Detroit Free Press, triggering public outcry, immigration authorities decided to re-evaluate her case. On Friday, the government granted her a one-year stay of removal, and she can reapply for more time when the 12 months are up.

She's one of the lucky ones, experts say.

"This kind of thing happens almost 200,000 times a year. It's not unique," said Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, D.C. "The fact is, tens of thousands of people are deported every year ... who are no danger to the community."

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a record 409,849 people were deported in 2012. Of those, 45% had no criminal record.

"That's one of the biggest concerns," said Chen, calling the government's immigration enforcement tactics "the most aggressive and robust" the country has ever seen. The record deportation numbers - which have doubled over the last decade - are proof, he said. "And it has had an incredibly damaging impact on separating families."

ICE has defended its tactics, stating: "Strategic and deliberative enforcement of our nation's immigration laws is critical to national security and public safety." ICE also praised efforts over the past four years, stating the agency "has seen unprecedented successes in enforcing the nation's immigration laws."

An issue of discretion

The number of deportations out of the Detroit field office has remained steady over the last five years: about 8,000 immigrants removed every year, according to ICE figures.

An estimated 11 million people are living in the U.S. illegally, with 100,000 of them in Michigan, according to government statistics.

Deportations aside, the government also is prosecuting a record number of immigrants and sending them to prison for sneaking into the country. Prosecutions of illegal entry and re-entry cases have skyrocketed in the U.S., reaching a record 97,384 in 2013 - a 367% increase from a decade ago and a 1,420% increase from two decades ago.

What's especially troubling, lawyers say, is that authorities aren't showing discretion.

"Here in the Calhoun County Jail, I see anywhere from murderers being deported to people who are like my mother - little old ladies who have never been in contact with the legal system before, and they're terrified," said immigration attorney Chris Veerland, who practices near Battle Creek. "They take moms away, too."

A 24-hour notice is common, he said.

"We call 'em suitcase letters," he said, noting plenty of his clients wind up on the weekly flight at Metro Airport.

They include mothers and fathers of U.S.-born children. "The simple fact that you have an American-born child doesn't guarantee you a stay in the country ... that's just not the case," Veerland said.

Detroit attorney Noel Saleh, who has been practicing immigration law for 36 years, can attest to that. Among his clients is Jose Avila Anguiano, a Mexican immigrant who married an American, had children, owned a home, paid taxes and was active in his church and community. He got deported last year over alleged misrepresentations he made on a document he filed about 20 years ago, Saleh said.

"It was a crazy case," said Saleh, who successfully appealed the deportation and got his client back in the country. "The removal of people who are in the country doing bad things is understandable ... but the other 45% - there is no rational basis for the use of funds to remove people and separate them from their families."

But the government is closing nearly 8% of cases nationwide - or about 26,700 cases in the 2013 fiscal year - based on prosecutorial discretion, according to the TRAC Immigration Project at Syracuse University.

That's still not enough, say immigration lawyers, arguing judges and immigration authorities were far more forgiving 10 to 20 years ago.

"There's much less room for people to make a mistake," Saleh said. "People used to be given a second chance, and that's not what's happening under the current (immigration law)."

In Washington, several immigration reform bills have been introduced over the years. Currently, a Senate bill is pending that would provide illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship and require more spending for Border Patrol. The House has yet to vote on the bill, which has to be approved by the end of 2014.

President Barack Obama also enforced a policy in 2012 that provides young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children temporary protection from deportation and the opportunity to apply for jobs. The policy, called Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), applies to immigrants ages 15 to 30.

A terrifying text

Pjetro "Pete" Gojcevic, a cook in Detroit, had just taken an order for an omelet when he got a mind-numbing text message from his wife on Monday. She texted him a photo of a deportation notice she had just received, telling her to report to Detroit Metro Airport the next morning for removal.

Startled, he made scrambled eggs instead of the omelet.

"It was horrible. I didn't know what to think or what we were going to do," recalled Gojcevic. "They just told her, 'We have your travel documents ... be at the airport.'"

His 41-year-old wife stayed home instead. Immigration officers never came looking for her. By week's end, she got a letter from ICE stating that her request for a stay had been granted, and she had at least another year in the country.

"I am very happy. This is good news," Precetaj said while eating dinner with her 4-year-old daughter in a Detroit restaurant Friday night. "All I want is to stay here and raise my kids and have a normal life."

With enough public support, that's possible, said Ola Kaso, a 21-year-old University of Michigan premed student who was spared from deportation three years ago.

Like Precetaj, Kaso's case garnered headlines and public support. The former high school class valedictorian and her mother were facing deportation to Albania. According to court records, Kaso's family legally came to the U.S. in 1998 but lost their bid for asylum, in part, because an attorney did not file the proper court papers.

With public support, Kaso was granted a one-year stay of removal. She has had two more stays since then.

"None of this would have been possible without the community support we got," said Kaso, who was devastated by Precetaj's story.

"It might not make sense to ICE officials," Kaso said. "This is common sense: We don't separate families. It's not what the American dream is about. It's not what this country is about."

Precetaj's lawyer, New York immigration attorney Andrew Johnson, said his client has been through enough.

"I'm happy with the end result," Johnson said of the removal getting stayed. "But it should have never come to this."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: As deportations soar, Michigan mom spared

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