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The Morton Memo and Prosecutorial Discretion: An Overview

5 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011 Last revised: 5 Aug 2011

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: July 20, 2011


On June 17, 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton issued two significant memoranda on the use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration matters. Prosecutorial discretion refers to the agency’s authority to not enforce immigration laws against certain individuals and groups. The primary memo (the Morton Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion) calls on ICE attorneys and employees to refrain from pursuing noncitizens with close family, educational, military, or other ties in the U.S. and instead spend the agency’s limited resources on persons who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security. Morton’s second memo focuses on exercising discretion in cases involving victims, witnesses to crimes, and plaintiffs in good faith civil rights lawsuits. The memo instructs “[a]bsent special circumstances or aggravating factors, it is against ICE policy to initiate removal proceedings against an individual known to be the immediate victim or witness to a crime.”

Suggested Citation

Wadhia, Shoba Sivaprasad, The Morton Memo and Prosecutorial Discretion: An Overview (July 20, 2011). Immigration Policy Center, July 2011; The Pennsylvania State University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-2011. Available at SSRN:

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
329 Innovation Blvd #118
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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