PORTLAND, Ore. -- As Republican presidential candidates debate the volatile topic of immigration, federal enforcement officers are quietly enacting a new policy that could bring what one Oregon lawyer calls a "seismic shift."
Under new rules adopted by the Obama administration in 2011, deportation is reserved for felons, national security risks or repeat immigration offenders. Undocumented immigrants guilty only of minor legal violations and who have long and substantial ties in the United States would have their deportation cases set aside.
That could fulfill one demand issued by the U.S. Catholic bishops -- that immigrant families not be broken up over small offenses such as a broken taillight. Until now, agents have presumed that any violation could be a path to deportation.
The change is "a potential seismic shift in enforcement," said Geoffrey Scowcroft, an attorney who manages immigration legal services for Catholic Charities in Oregon. "We are in the very early stages of this, but this policy is as close to good news as we have seen in years," said Scowcroft, who helps immigrants negotiate the legal system.