The Biden administration issued a new policy on Wednesday that expands the locations long-labeled as “sensitive” where ICE officers and border agents will be limited from making arrests, according to a memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
While ICE officers have for years been largely restricted from making arrests at schools and hospitals, the new list issued by DHS included additional locations such as domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and playgrounds, among other locations. Unlike the previous policy, the memo did not include an exception for arrests at the border. It does, however, allow for arrests in certain circumstances, like the existence of a national security threat.
The aim of restricting arrests at areas such as hospitals has been to avoid people fearing seeking medical care or dropping off their children at school. But though a previous iteration of the policy was in place during the Trump administration, fears surrounding increased arrests remained. Some schools began to issue policies that would limit immigration enforcement on their grounds.
BuzzFeed News first reported that the policy was going to be issued by the Biden administration.
“When we conduct an enforcement action – whether it is an arrest, search, service of a subpoena, or other action – we need to consider many factors, including the location in which we are conducting the action and its impact on other people and broader societal interests,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in the memo. “For example, if we take an action at an emergency shelter, it is possible that noncitizens, including children, will be hesitant to visit the shelter and receive needed food and water, urgent medical attention, or other humanitarian care.”
The latest effort is part of the Biden administration’s push to reshape the role of immigraton enforcement in the US by focusing on what they consider more “serious” targets and avoiding causing fear by conducting unfocused arrests and detentions within the country.
The policy comes months after a memo limited arrests at courthouses and weeks after another policy that moved to stop mass worksite raids that became common during the Trump era. It also arrives as the Department of Homeland Security faces continued scrutiny for expelling thousands of Haitians from the southern border and a constant barrage of lawsuits from states.
Unlike the Trump administration, which treated every undocumented immigrant as a priority for arrest and removal, the Biden administration wants to target certain types of undocumented immigrants, primarily people who are deemed “public safety” threats. Conservative critics have said officers have been hamstrung and effectively told not to do their jobs.
The memo limiting arrests in certain areas also renames the policy to “protected areas” from the previous iteration of “sensitive locations.”
In September, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained that the agency does not have the resources to target every one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country and that many of those without legal status are contributing members of society. He issued general guidelines to ICE officers that told them to focus their efforts on “public safety” threats in the country and recent border crossers.
“The fact that an individual is a removable noncitizen therefore should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them,” Mayorkas wrote. “We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way.”
There have been previous efforts to codify the policy by members of Congress, including Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who in 2019 introduced a bill that would have made it US law that immigration enforcement could not take place at schools or government buildings. The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act included locations that provided services to pregnant women and people with disabilities.
“Our interviews with parents and early childhood providers revealed that parents across the country are afraid to take their children to child care, school, or the doctor for fear of coming into contact with immigration agents,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, in 2019.