President Barack Obama has set a record number of deportations last fiscal year, removing nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants.
Despite this, a new administration policy set in August allows undocumented immigrants without criminal records to stay in the United States.
Seven months ago 19-year old Juan Valdez had to appear in a Nashua courtroom for driving without a license.
The Manchester resident had been undocumented since he came to the U-S from Mexico at age three.
When Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials caught wind of Valdez’s undocumented status, he was promptly arrested.
Valdez says he was sure he’d be deported.
“It was a nightmare, because I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I didn’t know if I was gonna get sent back to Mexico or if I was gonna be able to see my family again.”
But this October, Valdez received a call from his lawyer saying an immigration judge had decided to close the case.
“We’re able to terminate Juan’s case because he is a perfect example of a low-priority case.”
That’s Enrique Meza, the Valdez family’s attorney.
Meza says a shift in immigration policy, allowed Valdez to stay.
“They are trying to close the 300,000 cases that are currently open in immigration court throughout the nation, and they’re trying to figure out which ones are low priority, and which ones are high priority.”
The new policy shift encourages ICE agents not to pursue undocumented people who pose no threat to public safety or national security.
In Nashua, the police say going forward, low priority cases like Valdez’s will be handled differently.
At a recent meeting with members of Nashua’s Latino community, Nashua Police Lieutenant Scott Hammond said this:
“If you are a law-abiding individual in the city of Nashua, you are not going to have a problem with the Nashua police department, and we are not going to call immigration. Immigration will be called by us, if certain crimes are committed, okay, if it’s a felony level crime, okay.
Such a policy change doesn’t sit well with Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR.
He doesn’t think Valdez or other undocumented immigrants should be let off the hook.
FAIR has positioned itself in strong opposition to the new policy:
“We see this evidence that the administration simply doesn’t want to enforce most of our immigration laws, unless it deals with people who have committed serious felonies once they’re here in the United States… Of course you go after criminals, but it doesn’t mean you stop enforcing laws against everyone else.”
But Mohammad Abdollahi, an organizer at DreamActivist.org, applauds the change.
“I know Obama said he’s gonna review 300,000 cases, so if that actually happens, even if it happens with a lot of flaws, if these 300,000 cases are dropped that’s wonderful news.”
But Abdollahi says the shift in policy is less than meets the eye.
His group has been fighting for the undocumented to receive what’s called deferred action, which would allow them to apply for work permits.
“It’s really unclear whether under the administration’s prosecutorial discretion if folks will get a work permit and a way to survive, where with deferred action it was a sure thing, where if you get deferred action granted, you could apply for a work permit.”
Juan Valdez is grateful the change in immigration policy has allowed him to stay in the only country he has ever known.
But what remains unclear, is if he’ll be able to achieve what many U-S citizens take for granted.
“All I want is to be able to get a working permit and be able to go to college and go to work and help my family out.”