Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the United States remain in legal limbo because, despite the fact that the Obama Administration has ordered the suspension of their deportation procedures, the authorities have only reviewed 1.9 percent of the cases.

In August 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security would begin a "case by case" review of the judicial situations of some 300,000 undocumented migrants slated for deportation, a move that would allow many of them not only to remain in the country but also to apply for driver's licenses and work permits.

The idea, the DHS said at the time, was to give priority to the deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal records or who might pose a threat to national security.

In Fiscal Year 2011, the Obama administration deported almost 400,000 undocumented foreigners, a record. Of that group, almost 55 percent were individuals with criminal records.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had set for itself the goal of closing out the cases considered to be of "low priority" before those people went before an immigration judge.

However, the results of the effort so far have been discouraging.

By June 28, ICE agents had only managed to close out 5,684 cases, or 1.9 percent of the 298,173 cases pending before immigration courts as of the end of September of last year, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research outfit affiliated with Syracuse University.

The greatest number of the closed cases - 3,060 - belonged to undocumented Mexicans, according to a report released Monday by TRAC.

Undocumented immigrants have had to wait an average of 803 days from the day they were accused of an immigration infraction and deportation proceedings were begun until the date on which their cases were closed.

By way of comparison, the closing of other immigration cases has taken an average of 385 days during the current fiscal year.

The immigration courts in Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco, in that order, led the list of courts with the largest numbers of closed cases under the program announced in August 2011.

According to court documents, just 294, or 5 percent of the 5,684 closed cases, concerned people who had no legal representation. The remaining 95 percent had hired lawyers, which meant an additional expense for them.

The suspended deportations, also known as "deferred action" cases, have always formed part of U.S. immigration policy under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

The new element in the matter and the criticism that has arisen in conservative circles are perhaps due to the number of cases under review.

Yet the majority of these undocumented immigrants continue waiting for a decision on their cases, always with the threat of arrest or deportation.

One of the main criticisms of "deferred action" was made by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who said he feels that the suspension of deportation is nothing more than "backdoor amnesty."

But the suspension of deportation is neither a gift nor "amnesty" - because it does not confer permanent residence - but rather a temporary antidote to the poorly-functioning U.S. immigration system.

It is an oxygen mask that prevents the suffocation of those who are facing the daily challenge of paying their bills and maintaining a family.

Congress is very far from even debating comprehensive immigration reform, but the ICE delays are just as harmful. 

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