Last week, the Obama administration announced a breakthrough in its enforcement of immigration policy: deportations of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety have effectively been suspended. The White House can’t change the law unilaterally, but it can choose to prioritize among cases and create a more sensible and more humane immigration policy.

We’re now seeing the benefits as the new policy is implemented.

The call came in the morning to the lawyer representing Manuel Guerra, an illegal immigrant from Mexico living in Florida who had been caught in a tortuous and seemingly failing five-year court fight against deportation.

With the news early Thursday that federal immigration authorities had canceled his deportation, Mr. Guerra became one of the first illegal immigrants in the country to see results from a policy the Obama administration unveiled in Washington that day. It could lead to the suspension in coming months of deportation proceedings against tens of thousands of immigrants.

The same day, an undocumented Mexican woman in Colorado, Sujey Pando, also learned her deportation had been scrapped, because she married her lesbian partner in Iowa. Federal law does not yet recognize same-sex marriages, but as far as the Obama administration is concerned, same-sex couples who get married in states with marriage-equality laws fall under the administration’s definition of “family.”

This is, to put it mildly, a heartening development, for which President Obama and his team deserve a lot of credit. Deportations will continue for those who commit felonies and those considered security threats, but DHS and the Justice Department will review existing cases and will “halt deportations of longtime residents with clean police records who came here illegally when they were children, or are close family of military service members, or are parents or spouses of American citizens.”

This is not to say the administration’s breakthrough makes congressional action unnecessary. The law still needs systemic reform — law-abiding undocumented immigrants may be allowed to stay, but they’re in a status limbo — and Obama can’t change it on his own.

But in the meantime, it appears the president made a promise to the immigrant community, and he’s keeping it. Republicans are outraged, but the White House doesn’t seem to care.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told the NYT, “This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.