The Obama administration announced on Thursday that it will stop deporting potentially hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who don’t have criminal records so that it can focus on removing illegal immigrants who pose a security risk to the United States.
The administration had already prioritized deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records over illegal immigrants whose only crime was flouting immigration law, ABC News reports, but today, officials turned that into policy. A joint Department of Homeland Security -Justice Department panel will review each one of the 300,000 deportations currently pending on a case-by-case basis and stay those involving individuals not convicted of crimes, DHS officials announced. Officials will consider a person's age when they arrived in the United States, their criminal record, their education, their family ties and their military service record to decide who gets to stay for now.
"From a law enforcement and public safety perspective, DHS enforcement resources must continue to be focused on our highest priorities," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in a letter to members of Congress. "Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission – clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from individuals who pose a threat to public safety."
Immigrants exempt from deportation will not receive “any long standing immigration benefit or status,” a senior administration official told ABC News. However, illegal immigrants can, as always, apply for temporary work permits, which will be reviewed individually. Cases can be re-opened at any time if new crimes are committed.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who supports granting legal status to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, issued a statement welcoming the news, USA Today reports.
"We need to be doing all we can to keep these talented, dedicated, American students here, not wasting increasingly precious resources sending them away to countries they barely remember," Durbin said. "The administration's new process is a fair and just way to deal with an important group of immigrant students and I will closely monitor DHS to ensure it is fully implemented."
Opponents of illegal immigration were appalled. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit group that promotes lower levels of immigration, described the policy as “an amnesty program” that rewrites immigration law without the approval of Congress, according to Fox News.
"This step by the White House amounts to a complete abrogation of the president's duty to enforce the laws of the land and a huge breach of the public trust,” FAIR President Dan Stein said in a statement. “In essence, the administration has declared that U.S. immigration is now virtually unlimited to anyone willing to try to enter – and only those who commit violent felonies after arrival are subject to enforcement."
In 2010, DHS deported about 400,000 immigrants, an all-time high, according to ABC News. More than half had criminal records. Officials said the overall number of deportations should stay the same with the new policy, but a greater percentage of those kicked out of the country will be criminals.