Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday said immigration officers can no longer detain and deport people from the U.S. solely because they are undocumented.
In a memo to immigration and border agency officials, Mayorkas outlined new guidelines that direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to focus on the arrest and deportation of immigrants who pose a threat to both national and border security, as well as public safety.
This includes people suspected of terrorism or espionage, those who have committed serious crimes and migrants who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after Nov. 1, 2020.
The guidelines require a case-by-case assessment of individuals to determine if they fall under these priority categories, according to a Homeland Security press release.
ICE officers will no longer be permitted to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants who have long been “contributing members” of the U.S. community, including faith leaders, farmworkers and frontline health workers. The new guidelines also prohibit officers from detaining immigrants whose status is revealed by “unscrupulous employers,” as long as they don’t commit a major crime.
The new guidelines take effect Nov. 29.
“We are guided by the knowledge that there are individuals in our country who have been here for generations and contributed to our country’s well-being,” Mayorkas said in the memo.
“As we strive to provide them with a path to status, we will not work in conflict by spending resources seeking to remove those who do not pose a threat and, in fact, make our Nation stronger,” he continued.
The new guidelines mark a shift in U.S. immigration policy that may spare many of the undocumented immigrants who were at risk of deportation under the Trump administration, which had allowed the arrest of anyone illegally residing in the country.
Roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., according to the memo.
While President Joe Biden has vowed to fight for a path to citizenship, efforts to establish a legalization process have faced numerous roadblocks in Congress this year. A proposal from Democratic lawmakers to include a citizenship pathway in their budget bill was rejected by the Senate parliamentarian last week.
The Biden administration also faces harsh criticism for its response to migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates have condemned the administration’s use of Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy that deports migrants without giving them the chance to apply for asylum. Unaccompanied children are exempt.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided in August that Title 42 would remain in place until it determines that there is no longer a danger of Covid-19 being brought across the border into the U.S.
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