SANTA ANA, Calif. – U.S. immigration officials have offered to shelve 7.5 percent of deportation cases under a massive review of the backlogged immigration court system aimed at focusing on deporting more criminals, authorities said Tuesday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to temporarily suspend the deportation cases of roughly 16,500 people after reviewing more than 70 percent of the immigration cases pending as of mid-April, according to statistics released by the agency.
ICE officials said 2,700 cases have been shelved. The rest still require paperwork and background checks.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants had accepted the offer.
The Obama administration announced in August that roughly 300,000 deportation cases would be reviewed, and non-criminals and those illegal immigrants who posed no public safety or national security threat would likely have their cases put on hold indefinitely.
The move was welcomed by immigrant advocates but reviled by critics who called the program an attempt by the administration to work around Congress.
Since then, however, immigrant advocates have complained the government is offering to apply prosecutorial discretion in too few instances, and that those whose deportation cases are put on the back burner still don’t get a work permit.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the review is ongoing. The main focus is to enable authorities to focus on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records or those who previously ignored orders to leave the country.
This review is designed to allow the agency to make the best use of its limited resources, she said.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments today on whether Arizona’s law goes too far by requiring police to check the status of people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally, and to arrest those they believe are eligible to be deported.
The Obama administration contends that Arizona has gone beyond cooperation with the federal immigration law and is trying to implement its own policy.