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There are too many people, too many laws, and too few police officers, prosecutors and courts to enforce every law every time it is broken. That's why law enforcement officers have to set priorities. Generally that means spending the most resources going after the most serious crimes and the most dangerous criminals.

That's the best argument for focusing time and money on deporting illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes, and giving a pass to those who have not. It's called prosecutorial discretion.

The Obama administration just announced such a policy. Enforcers would concentrate on throwing the worst offenders out of the country and closing the book on others whose offenses are minor. The policy would give consideration to families of U.S. troops or veterans, those who have lived in the nation since childhood, are crime victims or caregivers.

It makes little sense to clog the immigration courts with the cases of people whose only offense is their illegal status, especially when that can be said of virtually all of the work force that harvests our crops and many of the people who clean our hotels and cook our meals. Deporting someone because she was brought to the United States illegally when she was a child is a waste of time and money.

This policy will enrage the Americans who want every illegal alien deported right now. They will argue that anything less only encourages more immigrants who lack visas to infiltrate U.S. borders, and, once here, will sponge government benefits and take jobs from Americans during a time of devastating unemployment.

These Americans are right that cheap immigrant labor depresses wages in the United States and drives up the costs of health care and government benefits. But it is also true that illegal labor is critical to some U.S. industries, even in times of high unemployment. The new policy also may make work permits available to illegal aliens with otherwise clean records.

Besides, it is not possible to deport 11 million illegal aliens, or however many there are. There aren't the resources to do it, especially when Congress is fixated on reducing budget deficits. Not to mention the human cost of separating families.

With limited resources comes the responsibility to allocate them wisely. That's what the Obama administration is proposing to do. It will review each deportation case with an eye to tossing the bad guys out of the country and leaving the small fish alone. That's just good policing.