The Biden administration on Friday will pause deportations for many undocumented immigrants who have final orders of removal, according to a memo issued by the acting leader of the Department of Homeland Security.
The memo, which was signed on Wednesday by acting DHS head David Pekoske, follows through on a key campaign promise on the part of President Joe Biden. On the campaign trail and in debates, Biden said he would pause deportations as the administration assessed how to move forward with immigration enforcement.
The memo states that the 100-day pause applies to all noncitizens with final deportation orders except those who have engaged in a suspected act of terrorism, people not in the US before Nov. 1, 2020, or those who have voluntarily agreed to waive any right to remain in the US. There is also an exception for individuals who the acting director of ICE determines should be deported. The memo did not immediately address those in ICE detention.
The directive is a monumental shift in the agency’s approach to immigration enforcement and represents the beginning of a new era under the Biden administration, which has promised reforms of how ICE prioritizes which immigrants to detain and deport.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this, both in substance and in tone. It’s a new day at the department. We’ve been given the opportunity to step back from the steady, unending drumbeat of removals to refocus and better identify where our resources should go and how they should be deployed,” said one DHS official on the condition of anonymity. “That’s a gift, and will only lead to a better, and hopefully more humane, department.”
"It will shut down an awful lot for the 100 days," added one ICE official.
In the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from October 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, more than 185,000 people were deported by ICE, according to agency statistics.
Pekoske ordered the current acting ICE director, Tae Johnson, to “issue written instructions with additional operational guidance on the further implementation of this removal pause” no later than Feb. 1.
“The guidance shall include a process for individualized review and consideration of the appropriate disposition for individuals who have been ordered removed for 90 days or more, to the extent necessary to implement this pause,” he wrote.
In addition to the pause on deportations, the Biden administration issued new priorities for ICE officers, stating that they should only focus arrests against those who are national security threats, those who were arrested at the border after Nov. 1, 2020, and individuals who are deemed public safety threats who have been convicted of an aggravated felony. These priorities go into effect on Feb. 1.
Earlier Wednesday, Biden rescinded a memo issued by Trump that had made nearly every undocumented immigrant a priority for deportation.
The order was issued alongside others focused on immigration and is the beginning of an expected overhaul of not only the Department of Homeland Security but its components, including ICE. Under former president Donald Trump, ICE faced a torrent of criticism from advocates and politicians for advocating that leaders in sanctuary cities be charged with crimes, conducting massive worksite raids, and other operations targeting undocumented immigrant families.
During the moratorium, agency officials will conduct a review and issue recommendations to “address aspects of immigration enforcement, including policies for prioritizing the use of enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets; policies governing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion; policies governing detention; and policies regarding interaction with state and local law enforcement.”