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New Policy Gives Hope To Some Facing Deportation
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New Policy Gives Hope To Some Facing Deportation

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JOHN YDSTIE, host: The Obama administration is planning to review the cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants who are facing deportation. Cases involving convicted criminals would be labeled high priority. Low priority cases would include people who don't pose a security threat. The policy could make a big difference for thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Sarah Gonzalez with the State Impact Florida Project reports.

SARAH GONZALEZ: Melissa is a high school student in Central Florida. She came to the U.S. from her native Honduras with the help of smugglers when she was seven years old. She has no criminal convictions, though her attorney didn't want us to use her real name. When Melissa heard the White House announcement, it gave her hope for the future.

MELISSA: It's kind of more like, okay, you won't be afraid of they're going to send me back. It's a pretty good thing. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel sure of what I'm doing now.

GONZALEZ: Life over the past six years has been a struggle for Melissa. She got caught in an immigration raid and recently lost her political asylum case at the highest level she could appeal to. That's when she was told she had to go back to Honduras.

MELISSA: I gave up everything. I didn't care about school. To me it was like, okay, I lost everything here. There is no one over there that I can make proud. My whole family is here.

GONZALEZ: She is the only person in her family without legal status. She was recently granted permission to stay in the country for one year, and that might happen for more people like Melissa. The White House announcement formalizes a policy of tolerance for undocumented immigrants with no criminal record, but critics say it does more than that. Kristen Williamson is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that wants tougher enforcement on illegal immigration. She says the Obama administration is bypassing Congress to loosen immigration laws.

KRISTEN WILLIAMSON: They're telling everyone in making it public that any illegal alien without a criminal record is now allowed to stay in the country and apply for a work Visa.

GONZALEZ: Not true, says Cheryl Little with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. She says the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not in removal proceedings and they can only qualify for temporary status if they're facing deportation.

CHERYL LITTLE: I'm concerned it's going to provide false hope that truly meaningful change is forthcoming. Those who have been placed in deportation proceedings now have some hope that they can get a work permit and a valid driver's license, while those who have not are out of luck.

GONZALEZ: In a way, Cheryl says Melissa is lucky she's in the system because now she can temporarily live in the U.S. lawfully. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzalez.

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