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Originally published Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 3:45 PM

The president's smart shift on deportations

Economic and political realities prompt the Obama administration's deportation policy emphasis away from people who pose no security or public safety threat to going after those who do.

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ECONOMIC and political realities prompt the Obama administration's welcome shift on deportations from going after those who pose no security or public-safety threat to focusing enforcement on those who do.

More than 800,000 people in the U.S. without permission were expelled in the past two years by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, setting a modern-day record. Considerable resources were expended on that dubious achievement.

New guidelines draw appropriate distinctions among the 12 million living illegally in the U.S. Low priorities for ICE agents will include people who have lived in the U.S. for a long time, many having come here as children.

About 300,000 deportation cases currently before the immigration courts will be reviewed. Authorities will use their prosecutorial discretion to suspend deportation proceedings for some, including the elderly and the ill, longtime residents with clean police records, those who are close family of military service members, or the parents or spouses of American citizens.

Young people who graduated from high school and plan to attend college or serve in the military would have qualified for legal status under the long-stalled Dream Act. They should be among the cases suspended by ICE.

This is not amnesty. Only Congress can confer legal status. With the new changes, illegal immigrants enter a new legal limbo, albeit one with much less of a threat of deportation and with the ability to apply for work permits.

Another plus is the chance to thin immigration court backlogs, clearing the way for swifter action on deportation of drug traffickers, gang members and other criminals. It can take nearly two years for cases to make their way through immigration court.

Washington state has the 13th highest caseload, with 5,237 cases pending.

This is a temporary fix that acknowledges the failure of President Obama's immigration-overhaul agenda to gain traction in Congress. Reform is still crucial. But smarter prioritizing of deportation cases is key to using resources most effectively in the meantime.

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