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On the border, Mr. Obama’s efforts have been more stark. He recently signed a bill to hire new U.S. Border Patrol agents and has begun a temporary deployment of up to 1,200 National Guard troops to help with intelligence and enforcement against Mexican drug cartels.

Numbers from the late part of the Bush administration suggest stepped-up enforcement has been effective.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan think tank that studies immigration issues, said Wednesday that illegal immigration dropped dramatically over the past few years, falling to 11.1 million people here illegally in March 2009, down from a high of 12 million in March 2007.

But some advocates for a crackdown say the administration is moving in the other direction.

Last month, several news reports said ICE was dropping removal cases against some immigrants, based on new guidance from Homeland Security Assistant Secretary John Morton.

In that memo, Mr. Morton said if the immigrant had a petition for legalization pending and ICE thought it likely the person would succeed, the agency would drop the removal proceedings.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, said worries are unfounded and that no new legalization avenue is being created.

“All of those affected by this sensible change in policy have to have a legitimate claim to legal status anyway under existing law,” he said. “This is simply making sure that the government doesn’t go through the expense of trying to deport someone before eventually determining that they won’t be deported, saving time and a lot of money before reaching the same outcome in the end.”