President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Wednesday undoing the Trump administration’s efforts to make nearly every undocumented immigrant a priority for arrest.
The order was issued alongside others focused on immigration. This is the beginning of an expected overhaul of not only the Department of Homeland Security but its components, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under former president Donald Trump, ICE faced a torrent of criticism from advocates and politicians for suggesting that leaders in sanctuary cities be charged with crimes, conducting massive worksite raids, and performing other operations that targeted undocumented immigrant families.
“The policy of my Administration is to protect national and border security, address the humanitarian challenges at the southern border, and ensure public health and safety,” Biden wrote in his order. “We must also adhere to due process of law as we safeguard the dignity and well-being of all families and communities.”
Biden directed homeland security officials to “take action, including issuing revised guidance, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, that advances the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.”
One ICE official who spoke on condition of anonymity said they believed the decision is “going to start immigration enforcement on a clean slate and hopefully the administration will develop thoughtful priorities going forward.”
The order is part of what’s expected to be an effort by Biden to return to a model of focusing ICE’s enforcement efforts against those with serious criminal backgrounds and to restrict so-called collateral arrests, which occur when an immigrant who happens to be in the same location of a government target is arrested as well.
The directive overturns Trump’s own order in 2017 that made nearly every undocumented immigrant a priority for arrest. Not long after, ICE prosecutors were restricted from granting reprieves for certain immigrants facing deportation and ordered to review and potentially reopen previously closed cases, which was first revealed by BuzzFeed News through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Soon, the proportion of immigrants with no prior criminal convictions who were being arrested and placed into deportation proceedings shot up.
News stories of ICE deporting sympathetic immigrants, including a cancer nurse in Oakland, became commonplace. ICE also arrested potential adult sponsors who came forward to take care of unaccompanied immigrant children who had been held in government shelters.
And when ICE ramped up operations targeting states and cities with sanctuary laws that restricted cooperation between local authorities and federal immigration officials, the divide only widened. When some mayors and governors refused to budge, ICE paid for billboards with photographs of “wanted” immigrants in the same areas.