The San Francisco immigration court partially closed Monday morning as a team of federal lawyers pored over thousands of backlogged Bay Area deportation cases to close those deemed low priority.

The two-week review in one of the nation's busiest immigration courts will relieve some Bay Area residents who are here illegally but have strong community ties and clean records.

But having their cases administratively closed -- set aside indefinitely -- also will leave the illegal immigrants in limbo, allowing them to stay but not to seek permanent legal residency. The review encompasses the state's coastal counties from Monterey to the Oregon border.

"It's something that is kind of like a Damocles sword hanging over their heads," said private immigration lawyer Matthew Muller, whose San Francisco firm is seeking what federal authorities call "prosecutorial discretion" for a few dozen people.

"It's just a decision by the agency that you're not a priority right now," he said. "In theory, they could certainly become a priority later."

A new U.S. president, for instance, could reverse the leniency. Republican lawmakers have described the case closures as a "backdoor amnesty" encouraging more illegal immigration.

The Obama administration announced last year that its immigration enforcers would begin using more discretion, focusing resources on expelling criminals and sparing some undocumented residents whose chief wrongdoing was coming here.

After the Obama administration deported a record 396,906 people last year -- and a million since taking office -- the discretion policy is slowing deportations but affects a minority of cases.

As of mid-April, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said it had reviewed 219,554 pending deportations and closed 2,722 of them -- roughly 1 percent.

It identified several thousand more -- about 7.5 percent of the total -- as amenable to discretion.

The closed cases mostly involved longtime residents of the United States with an American citizen family member and "compelling ties" to the country, according to ICE. The second-largest group -- several hundred nationwide -- were children, high school or college students or college graduates brought to the country as youngsters.

With a few extraordinary exceptions, federal attorneys screening the Bay Area cases this month are unlikely to grant relief to anyone without a near-perfect record, Muller said.

"The cynical view is they're the people who would probably get relief anyhow," he said. "We're not expecting fireworks."

The Obama administration had case screenings in the Denver and Baltimore immigration courts at the end of last year. The rolling reviews moved to Detroit, New Orleans, Orlando, Seattle and New York City.

Then came San Francisco, where ICE attorneys will be weeding out low-priority cases through June 15. The San Francisco court had more than 18,000 pending cases as of last month.

Prosecutorial discretion -- first announced last June -- has not much reduced the national backlog of more than 300,000 deportation cases, according to a public records group at Syracuse University.

"The hope was this was going to speed the cases and bring down the backlog," said Susan Long, co-director of Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. "We haven't seen that, but maybe we're expecting too much in the short term."