The Department of Homeland Security now says it will focus on deporting criminals first.
The Obama administration announced new immigration rules Thursday that will potentially allow thousands of immigrants to dodge deportation.
Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security will only focus on deporting immigrants who have criminal records or who pose a threat to society. Individuals without criminal records but who are currently in the deportation process will have their cases shelved, allowing them to remain in the country and apply for a work visa.
"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."
Approximately 300,000 cases will be reviewed to determine whether each is a candidate for deportation under the new rules.
The change in course comes after much pressure from immigrant groups over the previous U.S. immigration practice of deporting people simply because they don’t have proper documentation, but are otherwise model residents. Under the previous rules, many immigrants were deported for misdemeanor traffic violations and other non-serious offenses.
While immigration advocates welcomed the news, Republicans took issue with the policy change.
"They have created a working group that appears to have the specific purpose of overruling, on a 'case-by-case' basis, an immigration court's final order of removal, or preventing that court from even issuing such an order," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement. "The Obama administration should enforce immigration laws, not look for ways to ignore them. The Obama administration should not pick and choose which laws to enforce."
The U.S. caught pressure from human rights groups earlier this year when it resumed deportations to Haiti in the midst of a deadly cholera epidemic; a move that critics called a “death sentence” for those deported to Haiti.
Top Apprehensions by Country of Nationality, according to the DHS, for Fiscal Years 2008 to 2010:
China, People’s Republic
Dominican Republic, Brazil and Nigeria all made the list of the top 10 countries where most of the country’s deported come from.
(Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)