The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it will begin reviewing about 300,000 deportation proceedings to implement prosecutorial discretion measures laid out in a June 2011 memo issued by John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE).

The Office of Principal Legal Advisor at ICE in charge of the review has been directed to review “incoming cases and cases pending in immigration court.” The purpose of the review, according to guidance directives also issued Thursday, “is to identify those cases that reflect a high enforcement priority for the Department of Homeland Security.”

According to The New York Times, “the accelerated triage of the court docket — about 300,000 cases — is intended to allow severely overburdened immigration judges to focus on deporting foreigners who committed serious crimes or pose national security risks, Homeland Security officials said.”

The guidance distributed to all immigration attorneys in Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and ICE lists terrorism, felony convictions, murder,  sexual abuse, drug trafficking, illegal entry, reentry and immigration fraud among the crimes that are removal priorities.

Cases not considered enforcement priorities include members of the armed forces, children who have been in the U.S. for more than five years or came to the U.S. before the age of 16, people over 65, domestic violence victims, and people seeking asylum.

The Times adds that “immigration agency lawyers will examine all new cases just arriving in immigration courts nationwide, with an eye to closing cases that are low-priority according to the Morton memorandum, before they advance into the court system,” while “immigrants identified as high priority will see their cases put onto an expedited calendar for judges to order their deportations, Homeland Security officials said.”

Immigrant advocates have had different reactions to the review of deportation proceedings.

The National Day Laborers Organizing Network argues that Thursday’s announcement

highlights how completely out of whack the Administration’s immigration priorities are. President Obama has chosen to deport 400,000 people a year. Moreover, its decision to turn local police into “force multipliers” through [Secure Communities] has caused immeasurable suffering: families have been destroyed, community safety has been undermined, and Latinos’ civil rights have been imperiled as we witness an entire generation of Americans in Waiting criminalized by these policies.

B. Loewe of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network told the Independent in August that the case review

may bring with it an expansion of the definition of “criminal,” because the damaging label is never actually defined. As we’ve seen in Secure Communities, those who they define as criminals are people whose only offense may be driving without a license or may actually only be immigration-related. There’s the potential for many to be condemned under the agency’s new scarlet letter, the title of “criminal.”

The National Immigration Forum, meanwhile, welcomed ”the launch of the Administration’s long-promised review designed to reduce the backlog of deportation cases and prioritize resources. In this time of great concern about our nation’s fiscal health, it makes sense to focus valuable law enforcement resources on the deportation of individuals who are genuine threats to public and national safety.”

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (aka FAIR) writes that the Department of Homeland Security is beginning “Amnesty Screenings” with the move. FAIR supports immigration enforcement measures like Arizona’s infamous S.B. 1070 and “lower immigration levels.” It has said the prosecutorial discretion measures issued by Morton “constitute nothing less than the granting of administrative amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens.”

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