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Obama administration will reduce deportations, issue work permits to some undocumented

Many undocumented immigrants without criminal records who are up for deportation will be allowed to indefinitely stay in the United States and apply for work permits, said U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday.

The Associated Press reports that federal immigration officials will evaluate approximately 300,000 immigrants up for deportation on a case-by-case basis to identify which do not have criminal records and should be allowed to stay.

The news comes at a time when immigrants rights activists have mixed feelings on the Obama administration’s record on immigration policy. On the one hand, the administration has expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, instructed its officials to exercise discretion in deporting immigrants and has initiated lawsuits against two states that have enacted strict enforcement-only immigration laws, Arizona and Alabama.

On the other hand, the administration deported a record number of people last year, about half of which had committed no crimes, and has pushed for states to implement Secure Communities, a biometric information-sharing program between local law enforcement and federal officials that would place any immigrant detained by the police at risk of deportation. A federal board of appeals within the U.S. Justice Department also recently issued a decision that would deny immigrants placed under warrantless arrest notification of their rights before being questioned by authorities.

Members of the administration and their Democratic allies have also expressed skepticism at piecemeal, non-comprehensive reform efforts, which have been repeatedly suggested by activists in an effort to circumvent a Congress that has stagnated on the immigration issue. In a speech to the Hispanic rights group the National Council of La Raza last month, President Obama appeared to reject an approach to immigration reform driven by the executive branch, telling a frustrated audience that he had to enforce the laws as written by Congress.

In a statement, U.S. Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, a sponsor and major proponent of the DREAM Act, praised Napolitano’s announcement for its potential effect on students who would qualify for legalization under the Act if it became law. “The Administration’s new process is a fair and just way to deal with an important group of immigrant students and I will closely monitor DHS to ensure it is fully implemented,” he said.

The promise of indefinite stay would not apply to anyone with a criminal record. A Pew Hispanic Center report estimates there were approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants residing within the United States in 2010.

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