Understanding Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Law

In immigration law, Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion are crucial concepts that can significantly impact the lives of individuals facing deportation or seeking relief from removal proceedings. Understanding these terms and their implications is essential for immigrants, their families, and legal practitioners navigating the complexities of the immigration system.

What is Deferred Action?

Deferred Action is a discretionary determination made by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to temporarily defer the removal of an individual from the United States. It does not provide lawful status or a pathway to citizenship but allows eligible individuals to remain in the country without the threat of deportation for a specified period.

Key Points about Deferred Action:

  1. Temporary Relief: Deferred Action offers temporary relief from deportation, usually for a renewable period.
  2. Work Authorization: Individuals granted Deferred Action may also be eligible for employment authorization, allowing them to legally work in the United States.
  3. Case-by-Case Basis: Decisions on Deferred Action are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account various factors such as the individual’s immigration history, ties to the community, and humanitarian concerns.

What is Prosecutorial Discretion?

Prosecutorial Discretion refers to the authority of immigration enforcement agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to decide how to enforce immigration laws. This discretion allows officials to prioritize certain cases for enforcement while exercising leniency or discretion in others.

Key Points about Prosecutorial Discretion:

  1. Case Prioritization: Immigration authorities may use prosecutorial discretion to prioritize cases involving serious criminal offenses or national security concerns.
  2. Humanitarian Considerations: Officials may also consider humanitarian factors, such as family ties, medical conditions, or community contributions, when exercising prosecutorial discretion.
  3. Administrative Closure: In some cases, prosecutorial discretion may result in administrative closure of immigration proceedings, allowing individuals to remain in the United States without fear of deportation.

The Intersection of Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion

Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion often intersect in the context of immigration enforcement. Immigration officials may use prosecutorial discretion to grant Deferred Action to individuals who meet certain criteria, such as young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children (commonly referred to as Dreamers).

Benefits of Intersection:

  1. Protection from Deportation: The intersection of Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion can provide protection from deportation for vulnerable populations, such as immigrants with strong ties to the United States and no history of serious criminal activity.
  2. Legal Work Authorization: Eligible individuals may also receive work authorization, enabling them to contribute to the U.S. economy and support themselves and their families.
  3. Pathways to Legal Status: While Deferred Action itself does not provide a pathway to citizenship, it can serve as a stepping stone for individuals seeking to adjust their immigration status through other means, such as marriage to a U.S. citizen or sponsorship by an employer.


In conclusion, Deferred Action and Prosecutorial Discretion are vital tools in immigration law that can provide temporary relief and protection from deportation for eligible individuals. Understanding these concepts and how they intersect is crucial for immigrants, their families, and legal advocates navigating the complex landscape of immigration enforcement and relief. By staying informed and seeking appropriate legal counsel, individuals can better position themselves to pursue available options for remaining in the United States lawfully.