[JURIST] US President Barack Obama announced [press release] major reforms [guidelines, PDF] to America’s current immigration [JURIST news archive] system on Thursday, putting 300,000 illegal immigrants’ cases up for review and temporarily halting their deportation. The new guidelines direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] to target for deportation those “who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk,” and “clear out low-priority cases.” The priority of a case will be determined by prosecutorial discretion granted in a number of areas: “the person’s length of presence in the United States, with particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status;” “the circumstances of the person’s arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry,particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child;” “the person’s pursuit of education in the United States;” “whether the person, or the person’s immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military;” “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships;” “whether the person is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relative;” and several other factors. Many of the criteria mirror portions of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act [House bill; Senate bill], a bill that has a languished in Congress for a decade which attempts to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or achieve a college education. During Obama’s three years in office, approximately one million illegal immigrants have been deported, with almost 400,000 [AP report] last year alone.
Reactions to the new policy have poured in from around the nation. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) [official website], a major sponsor of the DREAM Act, praised the decision [press release]: “The Obama Administration has made the right decision in changing the way they handle deportations of DREAM Act students. These students are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and, maybe, Senators, who will make America stronger.” However, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] called the announcement backdoor amnesty [press release, PDF]. Rights groups have also been critical of the decision, stating it does not go far enough. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], in an emailed press release, criticized the focus on criminals for deportation: “The administration says it will focus on individuals with crimes, but many of those individuals came to the United States at a young age, have spouses and children who are U.S. citizens, and pose no danger to our country.” Reform Immigration for America [advocacy website] also said the new policies don’t go far enough [press release]. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] challenging the practice of shackling immigration detainees in court.