U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced in an August 18 letter to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) that current deportation policy is being reformed.  She wrote Senator Durbin regarding his proposed “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.”

Napolitano said that DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will create a committee to review the current deportation caseload of more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of violent crimes or pose a security risk.  If a deportation proceeding is deemed to be terminated, that individual can then apply for permission to work in the United States.

Napolitano’s letter endorses a previous memo by John Morton, DHS Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that discussed the use of “prosecutorial discretion” when dealing with removal cases.   Critics of the deportation policy reform announced by Napolitano say it opens the door for amnesty, and along with the Morton memo, authorizes ICE field personnel to effectuate amnesty by creating a bureaucratic nightmare of piecemeal decisions.

The deportation policy reform was announced two days after immigrant advocates delivered tens of thousands of petitions to President Obama’s reelection headquarters and other Democratic Party offices demanding an end to what is perceived by some as the administration’s aggressive deportation policy.

President Obama’s job rating among Hispanics has plummeted since its high mark in April 2009, according to Gallup, from 85 percent to 49 percent this month.  Obama won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2008 after pledging that overhauling immigration policies would be a top priority. Activist say Obama’s failure to pass legislation granting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, combined with a deportation program that has removed more than 1 million illegal immigrants since 2009 has stirred deep disappointment in the Hispanic community.

Meanwhile, 160 Hispanic leaders were recently invited to the White House for two-days of meetings with top presidential advisers, Cabinet members and administrators across the government with the goal of rekindling Hispanic support for President Obama’s re-election campaign, many of whom have turned away from the president amid disappointment over his immigration policies.

Obama’s re-election campaign is also reinvigorating its grass-roots Hispanic operations in key states, and the White House also announced last week that they would host Hispanic policy conferences in cities across the country. President Obama and other administration officials have also made frequent appearances on Hispanic media, such as Univision and Telemundo.

Although Hispanic activists have attested to the level of outreach from Obama’s White House, keeping Hispanics enthusiastic has gotten more difficult, they say,  because many wonder why the president did not push harder for comprehensive immigration reform.  In addition, the Hispanic community has been hit harder in the recession with unemployment topping 11 percent and home foreclosures devastating Hispanic neighborhoods across the nation.

“There’s a lot of outreach, but I think what people are still getting frustrated with is, okay, where are the outcomes in terms of policy,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and a regular participant in meetings with top White House officials.