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Latino Activists Not Satisfied by New Deportation Order from White House, Still Pressing for Full Reform

[David Dayen provides additional background on the Administration’s new deportation policies following activist protests.  For more reactions from activists, see Felipe Matos’ post — ed.]

Sticking to the immigration theme, over the past week we’ve seen major action from the Latino community to demand an end to the Secure Communities program and the mass of deportations that has separated families and sent non-criminal undocumenteds into the grips of ICE, contrary to the Administration’s stated goals for the program. Latino and immigration activists have staged mass walkouts of federal task force hearings, including on Monday night in Los Angeles. They say that Secure Communities damages local law enforcement efforts and has put 11 million people in a perpetual state of fear. They have also assailed what they consider lies that S-Comm only goes after criminal offenders for deportation, citing examples of undocumenteds working with law enforcement on reporting crimes and getting shifted over to ICE.

The Administration had to respond. These activists were threatening to sit home, saying they would hold the President accountable for the record deportations and twisting of S-Comm. They wanted to see some change. Thursday, the Administration made that response.

The Obama administration announced on Thursday it will do a case-by-case review of deportations, allowing many undocumented immigrants without criminal records to stay in the United States indefinitely and apply for work permits.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will send a letter on Thursday to Senate members who had asked for details on how the agency would prioritize its immigration enforcement. The policy change is meant as a framework to help prevent non-priority undocumented immigrants from “clogging the system,” senior administration officials said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

First, the agency will look at its pending immigration cases and close the low-priority cases, so immigration courts can focus on the most serious ones, administration officials said. The low-priority cases can be reopened if circumstances require. Next, guidance will be given to immigration enforcement agents to help them better detect serious criminals and other high-priority undocumented immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants whose cases are closed will be allowed to apply for work permits, but will not be given them automatically, officials said.

This would affect roughly 300,000 suspects currently in the immigration system, giving them the potential to stay and work legally in the United States. This would especially impact DREAMers, students with no criminal record who only know this country as a home and want to stay here and contribute to society.  But for those concerned about the Administration’s record deportation and Secure Communities flip-flops, it’s not enough.

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David Dayen

David Dayen