U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday began reviewing new deportation cases, a move that increases the number of undocumented foreigners who could have their deportations suspended in accord with the new federal policy.

On Aug. 18, President Barack Obama announced a change in the application of the law that would mean a "case by case" review of the judicial proceedings of some 300,000 undocumented immigrants who are facing deportation, something that would allow many of them not only to remain in the United States, but also apply for work permits.

On Thursday, ICE began its own initiative, which had been announced in June, whereby its lawyers will begin reviewing the new cases that have made it to the 59 immigration courts.

The fact that new cases - and not only pending cases - will be reviewed implies that the policy change will affect more than the August estimate of 300,000 people, ICE officials confirmed to Efe.

The evaluation of the new cases will "reduce inefficiencies that delay the removal of criminal aliens and other priority cases by preventing new low priority cases from clogging the immigration court dockets," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.

In this phase, which will last until Jan. 13, 2012, ICE attorneys will close the cases that are deemed to be of low priority.

At the same time, the cases of immigrants considered to be a danger to national security will be selected for expedited handling.

Closed cases resulting from the new process will be able to be reopened at any time, according to DHS. Thus, undocumented people will be able to remain in the country but they will also find themselves in legal limbo.

ICE on Thursday is also beginning a training phase for all its agents and lawyers whereby it intends to reduce the confusion that has arisen to date with regard to how to implement the new directive.

With regard to the pending cases, the agency on Dec. 4 will launch two pilot programs in which its attorneys will examine each of the cases that have made it to the Baltimore and Denver immigration courts.

Starting on Jan. 13, authorities will decide how to broaden the programs to immigration courts nationwide.

Although Obama's announcement engendered high hopes among immigrants, so far it has been applied in only a few isolated cases, something that has disappointed many undocumented immigrants who had hoped to have their deportation orders rescinded.

Thus, the launching of a new phase and a new training program designed to coordinate the way in which agents in each state understand the policy satisfies many immigrants' rights defense organizations.

"We welcome the launch of the Administration's long-promised review designed to reduce the backlog of deportation cases and prioritize resources," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement.

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