The Obama Administration’s new policy on immigration is aimed at refocusing deportations to cases of individuals who have a criminal history.

Our nations’ immigration system has become synonymous with inefficiency over the last few years as cases linger on while individuals languish in detention centers, many of whom should not have been there in the first place. One such case is that of an Ecuadorian woman who came to the U.S. in 2005 legally on a six-month visa but overstayed because the father of her child was in this country. Sara Martinez, a 47-year-old domestic worker was forcibly taken off a bus near Buffalo, NY and was arrested last year all the while her 5-year-old daughter was watching, terrified and crying as it all unraveled before her eyes. Ever since that instance, the child has suffered a dramatic loss in weight and has been in therapy from the trauma and, according to her mother, she is always in fear of her being snatched away, asking if the police are going to take her again.

After a long legal battle that included the help of a congresswoman, an immigration coalition, a pro bono attorney and three requests to ICE officials, Sara Martinez finally achieved her desired end result in being allowed to stay in this country alongside her daughter who was born in this country. This case was taken up by U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and the nonprofit New York Immigration Coalition as part of a nationwide effort to stop the deportation of immigrants who are not a risk to public safety.

The Obama Administration’s new policy on immigration is aimed at refocusing deportations to cases of individuals who have a criminal history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has offered to temporarily suspend the deportation of an estimated 16,500 people as part of the president’s administration’s plan to review an estimated 300,000 immigration cases. New York offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are going to partially close through May 18th so officials can speed up the processing of the backlogged cases that account for more than 16,000 that are pending nationwide.

But New York is not the only one that will be doing so, in fact this is part of a pilot program that will also include Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, FL, and Seattle, with all of these cities suspending all of their cases involving immigrants who are not in detention. This is largely being seen as a reprieve for thousands of law-abiding immigrants who don’t deserve to be kept detained since their records are impeccable and they are positive contributors in our civil society. Last week, ICE announced that nearly 220,000 cases had been screened, and that in implementing the prosecutorial discretion directive, the agency is looking to close cases and be lenient to undocumented immigrants who qualify.

So far, about 2,700 cases of this nature have been administratively closed, about 200 of which are from New York City. To see that this new directive is being taken seriously is of great comfort. Sara Martinez’s case was resolved after many individuals—some of whom were high profile—became involved, but that is not practical nor is it tenable for the hundreds of thousand others who are in the same position she was. That is why it is very refreshing to see that the Obama administration is finally making a significant difference in the immigration sphere, even if it took all this time for his promise to materialize.

– Steve Goldstein, New York Immigration Lawyer