The Obama administration announced Thursday it plans to focus its deportation efforts on more dangerous illegal immigrants, a move that gives undocumented Charlotte students like Elver Barrios hope.
As part of the policy change, the Department of Homeland Security intends to review the cases of approximately 300,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation orders.
Those without criminal records who are found to be a low priority because they are students, were brought here as children, or have long family ties to the country could be released and granted a work permit.
If Barrios were ever to be arrested, he believes this policy change could allow him to stay in the country he's lived in since he was 14.
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"This could be my chance to stay here," said Barrios, 20, who graduated from West Mecklenburg High School and is originally from Guatemala. "Every day I go out, even when I go buy the groceries, I risk getting arrested."
The policy change comes at a time when President Barack Obama has come under fire from some of his greatest allies.
Latino advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the president. Obama has promised to reform the nation's immigration laws, yet advocates say his administration has continued to allow thousands to be deported annually after being arrested for minor offenses.
The Department of Homeland Security must focus its resources on removing those who have been convicted of major crimes and are threats to national security or public safety, said Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission - clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from the individuals who pose a threat to public safety," she wrote in a letter to a group of senators supporting new immigration legislation.
Critics charged the Obama administration with implementing a back-door amnesty policy.
Under the guise of setting priorities for immigration enforcement, the White House is overhauling the nation's immigration policy without congressional approval, said Dan Stein, president of FAIR, which advocates for greater immigration enforcement.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said having a backlog and prioritizing deportations is nothing new.
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