The Two-Way
6:06 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

Obama Administration Shifts Focus On Deportations

The Department of Homeland Security will no longer target people who are in the United States illegally but have done nothing else wrong, under a new policy announced today by the Obama administration.

According to the White House, DHS and the Justice Department will review pending deportation cases on a case-by-case basis, and "clear out" the queue of people deemed to be low priority.

And officials will now use prosecutorial discretion to "keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place."

The criteria will include "a person's ties and contributions to the community, their family relationships and military service record," according to the White House."

The administration describes the shift as a broadening of an existing strategy, one based on devoting agency resources to deporting convicted criminals. The White House notes that "in 2010 DHS removed 79,000 more people who had been convicted of a crime compared to 2008."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the change in a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and other members of Congress — which The Chicago Sun Times has posted online. In it, she also refers to an agency memo sent out this past June, which outlines the criteria for using prosecutorial discretion.

The policy shift was hailed by Durbin, a key supporter of the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residency to students who entered the country illegally but meet certain criteria, such as graduating from high school.

"We need to be doing all we can to keep these talented, dedicated, American students here," Durbin wrote in response Thursday, "not wasting increasingly precious resources sending them away to countries they barely remember."

Elsewhere, the policy shift was seen as a potential victory for gay immigrant couples, as well.

Several states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York, have attempted to pull out of the related Secure Communities program, only to be told by federal officials that their participation is mandatory.

When Homeland Security held a hearing about the program last night in Illinois, many people took the opportunity to voice their displeasure with the system.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.