Advocates across the country are cautiously optimistic as the Obama administration announced on Aug. 18 that it would review the deportation cases of 300,000 migrants who were facing removal from the country due to minor criminal and/or immigration violations.
Many caught up in the proceedings were DREAMers, young people who came to the United States illegally with their parents but had otherwise never broken the laws of this country or committed a crime.
Under increased pressure from the Latino immigrant community especially, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said that under a new prioritization plan, the DHS would focus on the enforcement of immigration laws against serious foreign national criminals who are a threat to public safety.
This means that, ultimately, those who are not serious criminals but get caught up in deportation proceedings may find their cases administratively closed and work authorizations issued. This, of course, does not apply to all immigrants in deportation proceedings.
But the prioritization plan announcement comes on the heels of a June 17 memorandum from the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, titled: "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Aliens."
"From a law enforcement and public safety perspective, DHS enforcement resources must continue to be focused on our highest priorities," Napolitano wrote in a letter to senators working to revamp the current immigration system. "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."
The announcement has been welcomed by the immigrant community, many of whom had been growing annoyed with the Obama administration for saying one thing but doing another on immigration enforcement and reform.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a staunch advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, was elated.
"This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for, and that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for, sensible immigration policies," he said in a statement. "Focusing scarce resources on deporting serious criminals, gang bangers and drug dealers and setting aside noncriminals with deep roots in the United States until Congress fixes our laws is the right thing to do. I am proud of the president and Secretary Napolitano for standing up for a more rational approach to enforcing our current immigration laws."
"We are hopeful that this new action will bring us to a place where community safety is the focus of enforcement actions and the pain felt in communities is diminished," added Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.
The move means that, politically, Obama has solidified the Latino and immigrant vote again, going into 2012 without having to use his executive powers. Smart move indeed, and a welcome relief for the many facing deportation and the nightmare of being ripped away from a country they have grown up in and love.
Now it's time for Obama to take another serious look at the Secure Communities plan to ensure that the net it casts that takes away an immigrant's right to be first proven innocent or guilty in court does not conflict with this new plan, adding to the overflowing detention centers and the burden of an already clogged court system.
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.