New Immigration Law Enforcement Guidelines Focus On Public Safety Threats: NPR



Migrants are apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in LaJoya, Texas, in June.

Nicolo Filippo Rosso / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Nicolo Filippo Rosso / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Migrants are apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in LaJoya, Texas, in June.

Nicolo Filippo Rosso / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration has unveiled new guidelines for federal immigration law enforcement that prioritize the most pressing threats to public safety, while leaving discretion to individual officers and agents.

“What we have done is have guided our workforce to exercise their discretion to focus on people who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” he said. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NPR.

According to the new guidelines, outlined in a memo from Mayorkas to Immigration Customs and Enforcement and other agencies, the mere fact of being present in the United States without legal authorization “should not alone be the basis” for immigration authorities arrest or deport someone.

For many, ICE became the de facto face of former President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration, as agents were free to arrest anyone they encountered who was illegally in the country. With these new guidelines, the Biden administration is trying to distance itself from these policies.

It is an “indisputable fact,” Mayorkas said, that “the majority of undocumented people (…) our children, do the back-breaking farm labor to help deliver food to our table.”

But as with many immigration policies of the Biden administration, the new rules were quickly attacked from all sides.

The guidelines “fall somewhere between madness and lawlessness,” according to Jon Feere.

“Violating US immigration laws is no reason to hold someone accountable for violating US immigration laws,” wrote Feere, a former ICE chief of staff during the Trump administration who is now at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, who advocates for lower immigration levels.

The new guidelines largely reflect the enforcement priorities set out in the Biden administration’s interim guidelines earlier this year. But after criticism from Republicans and immigration extremists, the final guidelines give more leeway to individual ICE agents to make decisions about who is a threat to public safety.

Immigrant advocates fear that open language could lead to abuse.

“This new guidance note does not meet the commitments of the Biden administration and promises to create a fair and humane immigration system,” said Yaritza Méndez of advocacy group Make the Road New York.

“Left to their own discretion, agencies like ICE have an alarming history of terrorizing, detaining and separating communities. We cannot continue to rely on a system that harms our immigrant communities,” he said. Méndez said in a press release.

But DHS secretary Mayorkas brushed off those concerns.

“Yes, that leaves the discretion to the officers. But that discretion is guided. It is supervised. It is managed. It is supervised,” Mayorkas told NPR.

He said ICE officers should consider a wide range of factors when deciding who to arrest and deport – and that DHS would put in place safeguards to ensure they do.

“We will hold ourselves accountable internally and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public externally,” he said.


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