The Obama administration has adopted a policy of focusing immigration enforcement efforts on individuals with criminal records, particularly for violent crimes, and individuals believed to pose a threat to national security. They are therefore de-emphasizing cases against people who, despite allegedly lacking legal immigration status, have resided in the United States for a significant period of time, do not have criminal records, and have put down roots. This particularly includes people who have families in the United States, and who may have children who are themselves U.S. citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under the direction of the White House, recently undertook a review of all pending deportation cases in Denver. Of a total 7,900 cases, it found that 1,301, almost one of every six, should be closed under the Obama administration's guidelines. A similar review in Baltimore led to the closure of 366 of its 3,759 pending cases. "Closure" in this situation means that DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will no longer prosecute their claims against these particular individuals, and the immigration courts will suspend or dismiss the cases. Aside from dismissal of the deportation cases, this review does not confer any other benefits on any of the affected individuals. DHS hopes to conclude a nationwide review of pending cases by the end of this summer.
Critics of these reviews, and of the White House's policy in general, describe it as a form of "backdoor amnesty." This is a common criticism among those who seek stricter enforcement of our immigration laws, but it is not a fair way to characterise the reviews or the policy at all. Deportations and removals are complicated and costly proceedings, and the administration has made a decision to focus on the cases that could have the biggest benefit on society as a whole. Specifically, the benefit would be to seek to remove immigrants who have shown themselves to be violent or dangerous, and to leave the ones who are contributing to society alone. The people whose cases have been suspended or dismissed have not received any direct benefit from the government.