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Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will delay arresting immigrants who are not "public safety threats” and will roll back detaining those who fall outside of mandatory detention guidelines set by Congress, according to an announcement Wednesday.
The move comes after days of advocates and lawmakers calling for a drawback in ICE enforcement and detention as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
"To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning today, March 18, 2020," according to a statement released by the agency. "ICE’s highest priorities are to promote life-saving and public safety activities."
Now the agency will focus enforcement "on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds,” ICE said.
For those who do not fall into those categories, agents "will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate," the agency added.
ICE currently detains nearly 38,000 individuals across the country in local and private jails.
Last week, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin cited the pandemic in deciding not allow new ICE detainees into its facility because they represented too great a risk to other inmates and staff.
“The sheriff wanted to protect the current jail population that we had, along with the employees we have here and the staff at the facility, from the spread of the virus,” said Sgt. David Wright, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office.