The Biden administration began its overhaul of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday by announcing that it will direct officers to focus primarily on certain groups of immigrants, such as those suspected of being a national security threat and recent border crossers.
The Biden administration had previously attempted a 100-day deportation moratorium, but that plan was blocked by a federal judge in Texas. The judge’s order, however, did not stop the White House from moving forward with changing ICE’s arrest priorities, which will likely lead to a cut in the average number of arrests officers make.
A Department of Homeland Security official told reporters on Thursday the interim guidelines, which are expected to be followed by another directive in May, will help the agency “better perform” its mission.
BuzzFeed News previously reported on a draft version of the guidelines in January, which outlined that the groups of people ICE officers will focus on include those suspected of being a national security threat, recent border crossers, and those who are considered a public safety threat. The agency said that means people who were “convicted of an aggravated felony or engaged in certain activity as part of a criminal gang or transnational criminal organization and there is reason to believe they currently pose a threat.”
The guidelines lay out how ICE is working with limited resources and other constraints, like ongoing lawsuits, the health of officers and immigrant detainees during the pandemic, and the “responsibility” to ensure that people eligible for relief through the immigration courts can obtain it.
ICE officers will also need pre-approval from their local superiors in deciding whether to arrest or deport people who are not a priority and will be required to justify the action through a written request. The memo also blocks officers from making so-called “collateral” arrests if the person is not a priority listed by the administration. The only times officers can avoid this requirement is when there is a threat to life or substantial threat to property. The directive also seeks to bolster relations with local communities by requiring that any operations be communicated to state and local law enforcement agencies. Data on the implementation of the guidance will also be required each week.
In an email sent to ICE employees Thursday, acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will issue additional guidance within the next 90 days, but only after he has talked with employees.
“By focusing our limited resources on cases that present threats to national security, border security, and public safety, our agency will more ably and effectively execute its law enforcement mission,” Johnson said in a statement. “Like every law enforcement agency at the local, state, and federal level, we must prioritize our efforts to achieve the greatest security and safety impact.
The new guidelines are part of the Biden administration’s promised reforms of ICE and the work it carries out across the country. Former president Donald Trump’s directive in 2017 made nearly every undocumented immigrant a priority for arrest. ICE prosecutors were also 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 after, the proportion of immigrants with no prior criminal convictions who were being arrested and placed into deportation proceedings increased significantly.