The call came in the morning to the lawyer representing Manuel Guerra, an illegal immigrant from Mexico living in Florida who had been caught in a tortuous and seemingly failing five-year court fight against deportation.
With the news early Thursday that federal immigration authorities had canceled his deportation, Mr. Guerra became one of the first illegal immigrants in the country to see results from a policy the Obama administration unveiled in Washington that day. It could lead to the suspension in coming months of deportation proceedings against tens of thousands of immigrants.
Administration officials and immigrant advocates said Monday that the plan offered the first real possibility since President Obama took office — promising immigrants and Latinos he would overhaul the law to bring illegal immigrants into the system — for large numbers of those immigrants to be spared from detention and deportation.
For Mr. Guerra, who said he wants to remain in the United States to study to become a Roman Catholic priest, the news “was like something from above, from heaven. I don’t want to go back to Mexico,” he said, “and I’ve been fighting this for five years.”
A working group from the Homeland Security and Justice Departments met Friday to initiate a review of about 300,000 deportation cases currently before the immigration courts. Under the policy, immigration authorities will use powers of prosecutorial discretion in existing law to suspend the deportations of most immigrants who, although they have committed immigration violations (which generally are civil offenses), have not been convicted of crimes.
In particular, officials will look to halt deportations of longtime residents with clean police records who came here illegally when they were children, or are close family of military service members, or are parents or spouses of American citizens.
“This is a great first step,” said Hector E. Sanchez, a Hispanic labor leader who oversees immigration policy for the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of the country’s major Latino groups. “We really need to see action on a common-sense approach to immigration and not just promises.”
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