U.S. authorities will review the cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants slated for deportation to make sure they are not focusing on deporting people "who are low priorities for deportation," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday.
This includes "individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel," Napolitano said in the White House statement announcing the policy change.
Reviews will be conducted for about 300,000 immigrants marked for deportation and they will be given a chance to stay in the country and apply for a work permit, the Associated Press reported, quoting Napolitano. She said "pursuing such cases merely clogged up courts, diverting resources away from deporting those who posed a threat to public safety."
The focus will be primarily and only on deporting convicted criminals and those who might be a national security or public safety threat.
The statement says more than 10 million people who are in the country illegally and deporting such a large number is impossible, which forced the administration to develop a new strategy.
The Department of Homeland Security, along with the Department of Justice, will review the current "deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis" and "deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk."
The latest decision, delaying deportation of illegal immigrants indefinitely, was welcomed by immigration advocates and foreign college students who have been hoping for Congress to pass the Dream Act. The act is meant to provide conditional permanent residency to undocumented students of "good moral character" who graduate from the U.S. high schools after arriving illegally as minors and living in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.
Critics of illegal immigration have denounced the move as an "amnesty."
"This action represents an administrative end-run around Congress, which twice rejected the 'Dream Act' in 2010. As disgraceful as is this usurpation of congressional authority, this announcement is even worse than is being reported," Stand with Arizona, a Web site "against illegal immigration," said in a post.
College students who are facing uncertainty over possible deportation expressed hope and relief.
"It makes me happy and hopeful," said Rigoberto Barboza, 21, an undocumented student at Mount San Antonio College in California who supports a family of five with a $9-an-hour job at a fast-food restaurant, and has a mother facing deportation. "I hope they go through my mother's case, stop her deportation and, if possible, get her a work permit," reported the Los Angeles Times.
Some remain unconvinced after the announcement.
"We've heard elegant statements of priorities before," said Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "I don't know what today has changed."
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