The administration announcement comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona's tough 2010 immigration law that, among other things, requires police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally. The Obama administration has challenged the law.
The change also comes a year after the administration announced plans to focus on deporting serious criminals, immigrants who pose threats to public safety and national security, and serious immigration law violators.
One of the officials said the latest policy change is just another step in the administration's evolving approach to immigration.
Under the plan, immigrants whose deportation cases are pending in immigration court will have to prove their eligibility for a reprieve to ICE, which will begin dealing with such cases in 60 days. Any immigrant who already has a deportation order and those who never have been encountered by immigration authorities will deal with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The exact details of how the program will work, including how much immigrants will have to pay to apply and what proof they will need, still are being worked out.
In making it harder to deport, the Obama administration is in essence employing the same eligibility requirements spelled out in the proposed DREAM Act.
The administration officials stopped short of calling the change an administrative DREAM Act — the name is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — but the qualifications meet those laid out in a 2010 version that failed in the Senate after passing in the House. They said the DREAM Act, in some form, and comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system remained an administration priority.
Illegal immigrant children won't be eligible to apply for the deportation waiver until they turn 16, but the officials said younger children won't be deported, either.
Last year, Napolitano announced plans to review about 300,000 pending deportation cases and indefinitely suspend those that didn't meet department priorities.
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