The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement directs federal agents to avoid arresting or deporting undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. long-term and not committed any serious crimes.
On Thursday, the Biden administration released new guidance on immigration enforcement, directing officials to prioritize the deportation of recent arrivals, as well as immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety.
According to CBS News, the policy change will discourage federal law enforcement officers from detaining, arresting, and deporting undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States long-term without committing any serious crimes.
In a statement explaining the new rules, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that, while any undocumented immigrant could still be subject to removal, the Biden administration recognizes that many have been productive, hard-working, and largely honest members of their respective communities.
“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,” Mayorkas said in a press conference. “They include individuals who work on the frontlines in the battle against COVID, teachers, individuals who teach our children, who do the back-breaking farm-work that puts food on our table[s], who lead our congregations of faith and contribute to our communities in meaningful other ways.”
The latest guidance, notes CBS News, will supersede a similar order issued in February. The rules will take effect in 60 days, unless they are overturned or injuncted by a court.
Similar to the February memo, which was stalled by a Texas-based federal court, Mayorkas’s department-wide policies instruct officials and officers to prioritize the arrest and deportation of immigrants who pose a threat to national security or public safety.
CBS News says that the Department of Homeland Security has defined “a risk to public safety” as any person or persons who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony,” or who are party to organized criminal organizations.
Migrants who have crossed the border since 1 November 2021 will also be a priority. Officers have been told to look at the “totality of the facts and circumstances” when deciding whether to take a migrant into custody.
Mayorkas further said that arrests and deportations should never be used to penalize otherwise-honest migrants on the basis of their national origin, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, or to retaliate against persons who exercise their First Amendment rights or report exploitative landlords and employers.
Mayorkas justified these changes by opining that, in some situations, it is not fair to treat migrants categorically.
“To treat people and questions of public safety threat categorically like that actually is not effective, and could lead to ineffective and unjust results,” he told reporters.
“I place into the hands of the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents the trust and confidence to execute their mission in a way that brings honor to the agency and to this department, to the government, and to our country,” Mayorkas said.