The Obama administration quietly announced last week that it would overturn one of the harsh immigration enforcement measures enacted by the Bush administration following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beginning next month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said, those who arrive in the United States fleeing torture or persecution abroad will no longer automatically be welcomed with handcuffs and months in a jail cell. Instead, many of those seeking protection will again be permitted to live freely in the country while their applications for permanent asylum are considered by an immigration judge.
The measure is the latest in a string of little-noticed initiatives by the Obama DHS to reconsider some of the most controversial enforcement policies of the past decade. The administration in August launched an overhaul of the immigration detention system, which had grown out of control as the number of detainees doubled in just five years to more than 440,000 annually. Some of those were simply lost in the system, while others fell ill and died due to poor medical care, and the administration has pledged to stop such abuses. That same month, it moved families out of the notorious T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Texas, which had become a national disgrace after revelations that pregnant women and small children were being held there in prison-like conditions.
The administration has also largely halted workplace raids that resulted in jailing, deportation and even criminal charges for many unauthorized workers, and is focused instead on in-depth audits of companies suspected of hiring those workers.