The Obama administration is creating a committee to identify illegal immigrants who have been flagged for deportation but do not meet the administration's criteria for removal.
According to the office of Dick Durbin,the Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader in the Senate, lawyers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement will scour deportation cases for those that involve individuals who have lived in the country since childhood, are elderly, pregnant, ill, veterans, minors, or are the victims of crimes. Those cases will be closed except in "extraordinary circumstances," and those people can then apply for authorization to work in this country.
"DHS will also begin reviewing all 300,000 pending cases to identify those that meet these specific criteria," Durbin's office said in a press release.
Obama has said his administration's priority is to deport illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. (Overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense; entering the country illegally is a misdemeanor.) The president has been criticized by immigration rights advocates for deporting a record number of people last year, many of them without criminal records. In June, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, released a memo reminding agents to use prosecutorial discretion when deciding whether to deport the young, elderly, and several other categories of people.
The secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, said the administration was working on developing a system to "allow us to identify as early as possible people who are caught up in the removal system who in the end do not fit our removal priorities," in June. A Department of Homeland Security official told The Lookout then that Napolitano was referring to efforts to create a "a streamlined process to identify individuals who have been entered into removal proceedings and do not match I.C.E.'s removal priorities." It would help Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on removing "criminal aliens, repeat immigration violators, fugitives and recent illegal border crossers," the official said.
In a letter to Sen. Harry Reid today, Napolitano wrote that the task force would not provide "categorical relief for any group." She told Reid that most of the people deported last year who did not have criminal records were apprehended at the border or were repeat immigration violators.