The federal government says it wants to make sure that immigrants whose cases could be eligible for prosecutorial discretion know what the recently established legal process is and what it is not.
"Those notarios or people who unfortunately are trying to exploit the undocumented community and who are telling them lies, (we want the community) to not fall for those lies," said Barbara Gonzalez, press secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In simple terms, federal prosecutors have been instructed to take a look at pending cases and separate the less serious ones from those belonging to the worst criminal offenders.
Deportation proceedings will continue for those whose cases are given priority - mostly felons, repeat offenders and those who pose a threat to national security, among others. But people with low priority cases will be given the option to receive prosecutorial discretion, which means their cases will be administratively closed.
"That doesn't give anybody any rights or legal status," said Gonzalez, who was sent to Denver on Wednesday with the specific purpose of dispelling misinformation about the pilot program currently underway in both Denver and Baltimore. The program is supposed to test the effectiveness of applying prosecutorial discretion to eligible cases.
"Anybody who tells the community 'I can assure you that you will receive legal status,' is lying," added Gonzalez.
That's because receiving prosecutorial discretion does not change a person's immigration status nor does it dismiss his case, it just puts it on hold. In other words, a person who receives prosecutorial discretion won't have to worry about being deported, at least until further notice.
Gonzalez said she also wanted to make it clear that prosecutorial discretion is not something an undocumented immigrant can apply for since it only affects pending cases. So anyone who offers to file some kind of application for prosecutorial discretion on behalf of an undocumented immigrant is committing fraud.
Federal prosecutors in Denver have been sifting through more than 7,800 pending cases in immigration court since Dec. 4 to determine which ones are eligible for prosecutorial discretion. Attorneys are putting each case through a set of criteria that includes how long a person has been in the country, how he entered the country, level of education, military service, age and whether he's disabled or is the primary care taker of someone with a disability, among others.
It's a long and complicated process, Gonzalez said, but Denver is on track to be done by Jan. 13 as originally planned.
"Our lawyers are doing everything possible to review all these cases very carefully to ensure that we are making the right decisions," Gonzalez said. "This is not a game. We know we're affecting the lives of human beings."