High-ranking U.S. government officials said that the Department of Homeland Security will review "case by case" the situation of some 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing deportation procedures, and will allow some of them to stay in the country and apply for work permits.

The new approach intends to give priority to deporting criminals and at the same time will lighten the load of cases pending trial at immigration courts.

That will allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities to concentrate on expelling undocumented aliens with criminal records and who pose a threat the national security.

During a conference call with reporters, two officials of the Obama administration, who asked to remain anonymous, made it clear that the decision confers no legal status nor immigration benefits on the undocumented population.

While undocumented immigrants with no criminal record will be able to apply for a permits, the granting of such permits will be neither automatic nor guaranteed because the decisions will be made case by case, one of the officials said.

The announcement does not apply to undocumented immigrants who are not currently in the process of deportation, so that the 11 million immigrants without papers will remain in limbo.

The suspension of deportations could apply to students who some day would benefit from the possible approval by Congress of the DREAM Act, a bill to legalize qualified undocumented students, the officials said.

They insisted that the announcement has no connection with the series of protests in various cities Tuesday against the massive deportations and the controversial ICE program Secure Communities, which speeds up the expulsion of undocumented criminals.

Activists have complained that the program goes far beyond expelling dangerous criminals and is just as vicious toward the undocumented who commit minor infractions.

Republicans in general have accused President Barack Obama of being soft on illegal immigration and promote measures to tighten the noose around the undocumented community.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is promoting a bill to eliminate the discretion currently given ICE agents to determine who should be deported, said that Thursday's announcement amounts to "backdoor amnesty."