A group from the Homeland Security and Justice departments have officially started reviewing 300,000 deportation cases following President Obama’s decision to suspend deportations for illegal immigrants with no criminal past.
Under Obama’s policy, which is part of his effort to focus deportation on undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies, all cases currently scheduled for court hearings—some 300,000—will be individually reviewed, as will new deportation cases.
Most low-priority cases, those not involving infractions other than illegal entry, which is a civil offense, will then by identified and suspended—effectively closed “except in extraordinary circumstances” that would require approval to re-open, according to the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, chief sponsor of the DREAM Act.
Immigrants whose cases have been suspended are eligible to apply for work visas. The new policy is expected to affect those brought into the country by their undocumented immigrant parents, many of whom have become more and more vocal and visible through DREAM Act activism in the past year.
Some experts have estimated that more than two million people may be eligible to apply for legal status under the bill, according to a New York Times report, which also said Durbin’s office puts the number of those who could eventually go on to earn citizenship at 100,000 to 200,000.
Though some Republicans called the new measure “backdoor amnesty,” the immigrants’ legal status will not change, as only Congress can do that.
The effect of the new policy can already be seen, with immigrants receiving news of the cancellation of their cases. A nationwide sampling:
* Manuel Guerra, a college student from Indiantown, Florida, and aspiring Roman Catholic priest, who fled violence in Mexico and organized an undocumented-student march to Washington last year in support of the DREAM Act. Guerra, who has been fighting deportation for five years, told the New York Times that he hopes a work visa will enable him to receive financial aid.
* Venezuelan-born Alex Benshimol, who overstayed his visa in 1999 but legally married Doug Gentry in Connecticut last year after being together for five years. The couple went public with their two-year fight to keep Benshimol in the country. A juge delayed deportation proceedings until 2013 in July, and now the case has been dropped by ICE.
* Sujey Pando, a Mexican lesbian legally married in Iowa to American citizen Violeta Pando. Though same-sex marriages are not federally recognized, Obama administration officials said that they will consider gay married couples as family in deportation case reviews.