Thousands of illegal immigrants who live in fear of deportation may have seen a glimmer of hope this week when President Barack Obama announced a new approach to deportation.
The Obama administration unveiled a new plan that would review the 300,000 cases of deportation to potentially halt proceedings against those who do not pose a danger to the public.
The new program would allow federal prosecutors to have discretion in enforcing deportation proceedings against minors and elderly immigrants, those who have been in the United States since childhood and victims of domestic violence.
Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to forestall the deportations of undocumented immigrants who don’t pose a threat do public safety is a huge, huge deal. Not just for the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who won’t be ripped away from their homes and families, but because it stands as a good example of the White House responding constructively to criticism from the left — and doing the right thing in political and policy terms as a result.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the boldness and breadth of Administration’s move,” Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, told me. The plan includes reviewing the deportation proceedings of 300,000 people already in the system, and allowing those who don’t have criminal records to stay.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has implemented a far more aggressive immigration enforcement policy than the Bush administration — deporting close to 400,000 people a year. The idea was that aggressive enforcement would clear the way for comprehensive immigration reform, a plan that didn’t take the total opposition of the Republican Party into account. Despite the administration’s stated focus on deporting undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to public safety, the vast majority of those deported were convicted of minor offenses and many had no criminal record.
Nevertheless, Republicans have ignored this reality, instead accusing the administration for months of implementing a “stealth DREAM Act” through its enforcement priorities. Republicans are likely to revive these accusations given that the administration now says it will allow some “low-priority” undocumented immigrants in the system to apply for work permits. But make no mistake: No matter what conservatives say to the contrary, this is a temporary solution. It is not “amnesty” in that it does not grant a path to citizenship — it merely offers temporary relief to a select few.