The Department of Homeland Security issued a letter on Thursday that says it will implement prosecutorial discretion measures to review deportation proceedings laid out in a June memo issued by John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

These measures take into consideration criteria such as the length of a person’s stay in the U.S. and his or her criminal record, as well as if the person is pregnant or a primary caretaker, has served in the military, or has ties and contributions to the community.

Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Homeland Security letter adds, “Together with the Department of Justice (DOJ), we have initiated an interagency working group to execute a case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities.”

The Homeland Security letter came one day after dozens of immigrants rights organizations rallied in six U.S. cities to demand an end to Secure Communities, the immigration enforcement fingerprint sharing program that is at the center of the debate about the Obama administration’s commitment to immigration reform.

In a statement about the letter issued Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said, “the Administration has established a new process for handling the deportation cases of DREAM Act students and other sympathetic individuals. If fully implemented, the new process should stop virtually all DREAM Act deportations.”

The Homeland Security letter states: “Although the process for implementing the June 17 memorandum will focus the Administration’s immigration enforcement efforts on high priority cases, it will not provide categorical relief for any group. Thus, this process will not alleviate the need for passage of the DREAM Act or for larger reforms to our immigration laws.”

Chris Newman, Legal Director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a written statement:

We hope the statement today announcing review of the current caseload of victims of indiscriminate enforcement is carried forth. However, we have heard elegant statements of priorities before, and the problem is that those announcements have been belied [by] the administration’s actions.

Newman’s statement adds, “the Obama administration must end policies like Secure Communities that result in the criminalization of innocent immigrants who are Americans in Waiting like those who came before them. To date, the administration has pursued policies that are sowing … fear and devastation among immigrant communities, and it must reverse course to stop the Arizonification of the country.”

The Homeland Security letter says, that in the fiscal year 2010, “for the first time ever and due to the expansion of the Secure Communities program, over 50 percent of the aliens removed by ICE in a fiscal year were convicted criminals.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced 10 days ago that it would no longer rely on agreements with states to operate the program. The National Immigration Forum — a member of a task force created by ICE to help improve its Secure Communities immigration enforcement program —said it was deeply disturbed by the announcement to terminate those agreements.

On Thursday the National Immigration Forum issued a release that says: “Today, the Obama Administration announced a sound policy decision that prioritizes valuable law enforcement resources in a way that will keep families together and communities safe by focusing on true threats to public safety.”

The release added that “the announcement provides much-awaited temporary relief to immigrants who are contributing members of their communities and our nation.”

The organization DREAM Activist said in a statement that

the Obama Administration will once again attempt to hide that they are deporting DREAM Act-eligible youth and our families. The Obama Administration has attempted time after time to win our support with token appeasement. Coming just weeks after the June 17 Morton Memo, which still has not been implemented, it remains to be seen whether this change will provide actual relief for youth and our families.

The DREAM Activist statement added that “every few weeks, President Obama suddenly discovers that he has more authority to change immigration policy. These stop-gap measures come at the expense of a permanent solution.”

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports Arizona-style immigration enforcement measures, wrote that the White House announcement “will essentially halt enforcement against illegal aliens who have not been convicted of criminal offenses. Today’s move by the Obama administration amounts to an administrative amnesty and a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration policy without approval by Congress.”

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