As federal attorneys in San Francisco's busy immigration court prepare for their second week of weeding out the least important deportation cases, Ulises Toledo is among thousands in the Bay Area hoping to be deemed a low priority.
"I'm excited," Toledo said. "They're reviewing cases. Hopefully I'm one of those they give a reprieve."
The deportation net swept up the 21-year-old Chabot College student in 2010 after he was stopped for driving without a front license plate.
His hopes may be thin: Fewer than 2 percent of the more than 232,000 cases reviewed since November have been set aside under the Obama administration's new policy of showing more discretion in pursuing immigration violators.
The figure is likely to be closer to 9 percent once the reviews are complete, said authorities at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who released the statistics this week.
"It's not something that happens overnight," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen.
Immigrant advocates say the policy has failed. They hoped many more undocumented immigrants would be helped when the reviews were announced a year ago. Republicans and other immigration control proponents believe the opposite: They say that too many illegal immigrants are getting a pass.
Having a case set aside is not a path to citizenship. Administratively closing low priority cases puts illegal immigrants in legal limbo -- they can stay but not get green
Closing low-priority cases helps immigration agents more quickly remove the greatest threats to public safety, Christensen said.
The new approach, she said, is "dramatically changing the composition of the immigration courts and helping to prevent future backlogs."
Most of the people getting reprieves are longtime U.S. residents with close family and community ties and clean records, or students brought to the country at a young age. Toledo, who came when he was 8 and is related to several U.S. citizens, from his grandfather on down, believes he fits the bill.
ICE has been seeking to deport him to Mexico since Hayward police pulled him and his girlfriend over one afternoon in 2010.
"Obviously I don't have a driver's license. I told him that," said Toledo, a theater major at Chabot and a graduate of San Leandro High School.
Hayward police jailed him for several days, then took him to an Alameda County jail, which handed him over to ICE. Such pickups have become more common since 2010 when all Bay Area counties joined the federal Secure Communities database, which alerts immigration agents to every arrest.
The dragnet contributed to a record 396,906 deportations last year. Until recently, ICE agents and attorneys rarely made distinctions among deportation candidates, but that is changing.
Since the new focus on discretion, ICE has closed or dismissed 4,363 cases, just under 2 percent of the total reviewed as of May 29.
Almost as many -- 3,998 people -- declined ICE's offer of prosecutorial discretion, which can mean they are seeking to win their immigration case -- and a chance at a green card and citizenship -- rather than have the case set aside and live in limbo.
More than 12,000 were offered prosecutorial discretion but are either undergoing a background check or haven't decided whether to accept. The total percentage offered a reprieve is at 9 percent, according to the new statistics.
Some immigrant advocacy groups predict the number of cases actually closed will not exceed 4 percent, not much higher than the number immigration judges typically close each year.
The new policy began in November, and the case-by-case reviews accelerated on Monday in the Bay Area when the San Francisco immigration court partially closed for a 2-week scouring of cases.
The court has more than 18,000 pending deportations from across Northern California.