Supporters of undocumented Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra show their support during her hearing in federal court. Vizguerra is a mother of four children, three of whom were born in the U.S. as American citizens. John Moore/Getty
Supporters of undocumented Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra show their support during her hearing in federal court. Vizguerra is a mother of four children, three of whom were born in the U.S. as American citizens. John Moore/Getty

There are currently about 300,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. facing deportation. Yesterday, the White House announced, in both a post on the White House blog and in a letter (.pdf) to Senate Democrats from Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, that the Obama administration would de-emphasize proceedings against “low-priority” undocumented immigrants.

These cases include “individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home, [and] individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.”

The post goes on:

DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk.

And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. They will be applying common sense guidelines to make these decisions, like a person’s ties and contributions to the community, their family relationships and military service record.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security released the letter sent by Secretary Napolitano to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and others.

…we have initiated an interagency working group to execute a case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities. The working group will also initiate a case-by-case review to ensure that new cases placed in removal proceedings similarly meet such priorities. In addition, the working group will issue guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration to be given to compelling cases involving a final order of removal. Finally, we
will work to ensure that the resources saved as a result of the efficiencies generated through this process are dedicated to further enhancing the identification and removal of aliens who pose a threat to public safety…

The letter cites a June 17 memorandum (.pdf) by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton as laying out the priorities to be considered by prosecutors when considering deportation.

KQED’s Mina Kim today spoke to Gabriela Villareal, policy analyst for the California Immigrant Policy Center, based in Oakland, who said she was already hearing from clients wondering what impact the announcement might have on their own cases.

“There has not been a timeline that has been issued from the Department of Homeland Security of when this review will take place, how long it will take, and when will people will be notified they will be eligible for relief with an administratively closed case,” Villareal said. “There’s no information about how people will be contacted, if there case will still move forward as part of deportation proceedings.”

She also said the policy change did not address those immigrants who have been detained for low-level criminal offenses through the Secure Communities Program, which checks local inmates’ immigration status against a centralized database by running their fingerprints. Since 2009, more than 35,000 immigrants in California have been removed through the program.

A bill that would allow California counties to opt out of the program, AB 1081, has passed the State Assembly and will be considered by the Senate.

Yesterday, on a Twitter chat, Cecilia Muñoz, the White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who wrote the White House blog post announcing the policy shift yesterday, engaged in this exchange regarding the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided a way for students who are in the country illegally to avoid deportation, but which died in Congress:

As for Republicans, they are decrying the Obama administration’s policy change as “amnesty.”

The Napolitano letter, background on the new policy, and ICE deportation guidelines from the July 17 memo are below.

Napolitano Letter on Immigration Deportation Policy

ICE’s Deportation Guidelines

ICE’s Deportation Guidelines


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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