U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is announcing new guidelines as directed by President Joe Biden that would limit who immigration agents can target for arrests. Under the new rules, ICE will focus more narrowly on immigrants who pose a threat to border security, public safety, and national security. These changes will sharply curb deportations and immigrant arrests.
Proponents of the changes, like acting ICE director during the Obama administration John Sandweg say they are a good step to improving the quality of ICE’s work as well as its public image.
“No one judges the FBI by the number of arrests they make. They judge them by the quality of arrests,” Sandweg said.
Opponents of the changes, however, counter that they will allow thousands of people with criminal backgrounds to stay in the U.S. and even re-offend. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a federal lawsuit that overturned the 100-day pause and resumed deportations.
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ICE During the Trump Era
This new guidance to ICE is part of Biden’s broader plan to roll back the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies. Under President Trump, criminal offenders were the vast majority of immigrants taken into custody, but many of the people arrested had convictions or pending charges for non-violent offenses like driving under the influence, traffic offenses, and immigration violations.
The Trump Administration used ICE as a tool in his domestic policy agenda, instructing ICE agents to “deport millions” of immigrants. ICE officials said they were still prioritizing criminals under Trump’s guidance, but their aggressive enforcement led to deporting families, business owners with strong ties to the community, and people with minor traffic offenses.
Under President Biden, ICE agents are being told to focus on immigrants that pose the biggest threats to national security and public safety. ICE officials say this is the best way to use the agency’s limited resources— an extremely large shift from the Trump era when ICE agents were empowered to detain whomever they encountered who was in the country illegally.
Now, field officers must seek pre-approval from their supervisors before they arrest noncitizens convicted of other crimes like minor drug and immigration offenses or DUI. They must also alert the local and state authorities before making an arrest.
As we mentioned, Biden’s guidelines create a new priority system that breaks down as follows:
A national security threat is when someone engages or is suspected of engaging in terrorism-related activities or espionage.
Public security is focused on security at the border and includes people apprehended at the border or other port of entry on or after November 1, 2020.
ICE officers must now prioritize noncitizens who pose the biggest threat to public safety. For example, people convicted of aggravated felonies, including violent crimes such as rape or murder or gang or cartel activity, would mean they are threats to public safety and can be prioritized for ICE arrests.
Some other changes included in President Biden’s ICE guidance lie in the terminology. Instead of referring to undocumented immigrants as “aliens,” they are directed to call them “noncitizen.” Biden has long been trying to move away from the term “alien” to describe immigrants.
The new guidance was prompted by an executive order that Biden signed shortly after he took office. It marks a return to Obama-era immigration enforcement policies based on the priority system instead of Trump’s more aggressive approach.
What Are Critics Saying?
Critics worry that the relaxed enforcement will impact public safety by allowing criminal immigrants to roam the streets and that ICE agents’ jobs of making arrests to keep Americans safe are now much more challenging.
ICE officers are also expressing concern about their limiting ability to conduct enforcement operations that may result in dangerous people slipping from their grasp.
What Effect Will President Biden’s New Rules Have?
It’s likely that fewer people will be deported under Biden’s new rules that will essentially take a more targeted approach to immigration enforcement. The new guidelines will shield a significant number of immigrants. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, 87% of noncitizens nationwide without authorization would not be considered priorities for enforcement.
But, Biden officials say these changes are not the administration’s total abandonment of immigration enforcement, and they will continue to prioritize national security and public safety threats while also working to prevent deporting people who don’t meet the more selective requirements.
What are the Next Steps?
If you are an immigrant and you anticipate these changes will affect you or your loved ones, it’s best to contact a licensed immigration attorney ASAP to discuss all options and paths to citizenship.
If you are looking for a skilled immigration attorney in Los Angeles, look no further than Attorney Eric Price. Price is a nationally-acclaimed immigration attorney, and our law firm practices immigration law exclusively. This dedication and hard work consistently rank us among the best lawyers in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, among others.