While conservative opposition has stymied immigration reform on the national level, the Obama administration has pursued a double-edged policy: endorsing a path to citizenship in a bid to woo Hispanic voters while concentrating on securing the nation's borders.
The latter prong mimics the crackdown of the George W. Bush administration, which stepped up raids on factories and deported nearly 350,000 immigrants in 2008.
The Obama administration has expanded a program to verify worker immigration status and bolstered partnerships between federal immigration agents and local police departments, steps that have rankled Democratic allies.
However, instead of raids, the government sent agents to comb company records for illegal immigrant workers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement levied a record $3 million in civil fines in the first half of 2010.
In August 2009 the administration announced plans to centralize the hodgepodge of jails and prison cells, which hold about 400,000 detainees, and last summer it said it would suspend deportation proceedings against people who pose no public safety threat.
On Thursday it went further, announcing a review of all deportation cases with the goal, according to The New York Times, of "speeding deportations of convicted criminals and halting those of many illegal immigrants with no criminal record."
The new policy aims to clear the backlog of 300,000 cases clogging the immigration courts by focusing on people accused of serious crimes or who pose national security risks. Their cases will be expedited. Less serious offenders will have their cases closed but not dismissed, meaning that they could be subject to deportation if they commit a crime or a new immigration violation.
The case-by-case review is a sensible step that focuses on deporting those immigrants who pose the greatest risks while consigning the rest to legal limbo.