The new policy, which has been likened to the passage of the DREAM Act, allows DHS to review deportations on a case-by-case basis.

The new policy, which has been likened to the passage of the DREAM Act, allows DHS to review deportations on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. immigration officials recently announced an important change to deportation enforcement that potentially affects tens of thousands of immigrant families. Some commentators are calling this development the functional equivalent of passage of the DREAM Act, which Congress has repeatedly failed to enact.

The Obama administration’s new policy will suspend deportation proceedings if the individual poses no threat to public safety or national security. Immigration agencies will have prosecutorial discretion to devote resources to cases involving individuals with criminal histories or records of repeat violations of U.S. immigration laws. The primary beneficiaries of the change in policy will be immigrants who moved to the U.S. as children with their parents and now seek to go to college or join the military.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, who sponsored the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in Congress, was quick to praise this change as a sensible policy decision. “The Obama Administration has made the right decision in changing the way they handle deportations of DREAM Act students,” Durbin said. “These students are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and, maybe, Senators, who will make America stronger.”

Reviewing Deportation Priorities to Enhance National Security

The new policy, announced in a letter to 22 senators from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, allows DHS to review deportations on a case-by-case basis. Young immigrants who have no criminal record or pending prosecutions and exhibit no risk to national security can be spared further removal proceedings.

Deportation dismissals would be based on a distinction between high and low priority cases to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) focus its efforts on border security and identifying and removing criminal aliens. “The president has said on numerous occasions that it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases … clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources,” said Napolitano in her response to the senators, who had called for administrative application of DREAM Act principals earlier this year.

New removal cases will be reviewed in accordance with the new focus on high priority individuals, but Napolitano also indicated that officials are working on providing a means of review of final orders of removal. She also emphasized that passage of the DREAM Act, which she supported in congressional testimony earlier this year, would still be necessary.

ICE has already focused its enforcement priorities on cases involving individuals with criminal histories, and it removed 79,000 more aliens who had criminal convictions in 2010 than it had in 2008. In addition to the students and service members who would benefit under the DREAM Act, the new policy could provide relief from deportation to elderly immigrants, veterans and their spouses, family caregivers, people with disabilities, pregnant women, victims of serious crimes, and family members of citizens, including those in same sex relationships.

Legal Defense in Deportation and Removal Proceedings

The process for removal can be initiated for a variety of reasons, including entering the country illegally, membership in prohibited organizations and denial or referral of asylum applications. With the rapid legal developments resulting from Obama’s new immigration policy, clients have more reason than ever to consult with an immigration attorney to make sure their rights and interests are represented.

Prior to this change in policy, proof of exceptional circumstances or unusual hardships could help an individual defeat removal and remain in the U.S. The effect of deportation on family relationships is a crucial matter for a parent about to be separated from his or her children, and factors such as an aging parent, family illness or child with special needs can be considered. Alternatively, a grant of asylum due to persecution based on political affiliation, nationality, race or religion can lead to refugee status.

While the new policy announced by Secretary Napolitano clearly emphasizes the national priority of targeting immigrants with criminal records, even those cases can be clouded by legal issues. Individuals facing removal for any reason deserve full review of the allegations and records to uncover potential misunderstandings and errors.

ICE and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) procedures are based on a complex array of statutes, regulations and court interpretations. The path to a Green Card is paved with challenges, and an experienced deportation and citizenship lawyer can help clients make the most of their legal options.