Obama Announces Deportation Policy Reform

The announcement today that the Obama administration will review the deportation cases of more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants is one positive step among many missteps in an administration that has failed to provide a coherent strategy on immigration.

On the White House blog, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz talks about the steps that will be taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create that review committee which will review those deportation cases:

DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place.

It remains to be seen if this latest announcement is the beginning of a pivotal moment where Obama begins shifting to a more liberal immigration policy, or if months from now we see it as the only moderately positive step among many negative ones.

Throughout his time in office, Obama has let immigration policies evolve on their own, providing little input other than periodic speeches in Latino-heavy areas. By making no comment on congressional increases in enforcement-related spending, while opting to ratchet up enforcement policies that raise the number of deportations, Obama created the need for political actions like today’s.

300,000 cases is a small fraction of the entire undocumented population, and much more reform will be needed at the congressional level to move the country forward. The question is whether Obama and his administration can recognize that their actions on beefing up the “deportation pipeline” that Muñoz talks about, i.e. their support for mandatory Secure Communities, are likely to do more damage than any cosmetic reforms to the prosecutorial process can undo.