The Biden administration on Thursday announced new restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents regarding the arrest and deportation of illegal aliens which critics will likely see as exacerbating the current migrant crises along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a memo, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed ICE officials and agents to hone in on detaining and deporting migrants posing a threat to U.S. national security or the public’s safety, in addition to those who most recently crossed illegally into the U.S., according to multiple reports.
The memo, which has been expected for some time, signals “a dramatic shift in U.S. immigration enforcement policy that will likely spare most undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years from arrest and deportation, as long as they don’t commit serious crimes,” CBS News reported Thursday.
In comments to reporters, Mayorkas justified deemphasizing those who are simply in the country illegally.
“The majority of undocumented non-citizens who could be subject to removal, the majority of the more than 11 million people, have been contributing members of our communities for years,” the DHS secretary told reporters.
“They include individuals who work on the frontlines in the battle against COVID, teachers, individuals who teach our children, who do the back-breaking farmwork that puts food on our table, who lead our congregations of faith and contribute to our communities in meaningful other ways,” he said. “To treat people and questions of public safety threat categorically like that actually is not effective [and] could lead to ineffective and unjust results.”
The new memo supersedes one issued in February that also restricted who ICE agents ought to concentrate on for deportation proceedings. But in August, a federal judge issued an injunction against those instructions, ruling they were implemented improperly and caused U.S. immigration officials to violate federal laws. But that order was stayed by an appeals court.
Thursday’s new guidelines are to be implemented in 60 days, according to the memo, and they will further limit ICE’s ability to remove people in the country illegally, surpassing even lax enforcement policies enacted during former President Barack Obama’s administration. Obama’s orders were reversed by former President Donald Trump, whose immigration enforcement policies were among the strictest in years during his term. Trump frequently argued that all persons in the U.S. illegally should be deported.
Some reports noted that the new guidelines are set up to give ICE officers more leeway in deciding who is a threat to the safety and security of the country. But according to the memo, Mayorkas made clear that simply being in the country illegally is not grounds enough for automatic removal proceedings.
“The overriding question is whether the noncitizen poses a current threat to public safety,” the memo says.
“Are we going to spend the time apprehending and removing the farmworker who is breaking his or her back to pick fruit that we all put on our tables?” Mayorkas added in remarks to reporters. “Because if we pursue that individual, we will not be spending those same resources on somebody who does, in fact, threaten our safety. And that is what this is about.”
Republicans especially have been critical of the Biden administration’s border and immigration enforcement policies, which they say have led to a near-unprecedented level of illegal border crossings and encounters after President Joe Biden reversed most of Trump’s immigration policies on his first day in office.
Last month, former acting ICE Director Tom Homan blasted Mayorkas for “hiding” the actual numbers of migrants who have crossed illegally this year.
“As ICE director, all I have to do is make a phone call and say, how many people have we removed since January? I’ve had the answer in 15 minutes because a database will spill the information out. For him to say I am working for 18 hours – he’s not going to pull data,” Homan told Fox News.
“They can get the number in 20 minutes. This is them hiding the numbers. They’re ashamed of the numbers.”
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