The government will stop deporting many students and other illegal immigrants who are not a public safety threat and permit them to work in the country legally, the Obama administration announced Thursday.

A new federal group will review the 300,000 backlogged deportation cases with an eye toward prosecuting criminals and other high-priority cases. But authorities will effectively close the cases of many upstanding high school and college students who were brought here illegally, military veterans, and adults with no criminal record and strong family ties to the United States.

“This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety,” wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a letter to members of Congress. “Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high-priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons.”

Opponents criticized the move as “administrative amnesty” or “backdoor amnesty,” while Democratic leaders cheered the change and some immigrant advocates said it was not enough