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Immigration enforcement gets a Biden touch

The administration’s new deportation guidelines signal a softer approach

A National Guardsman stands guard at a fence along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 17. Associated Press/Photo by Eric Gay, file

Immigration enforcement gets a Biden touch

Starting Nov. 29, being an undocumented immigrant in the United States will no longer be sufficient grounds alone for deportation.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last Thursday announced a new set of guidelines that tells immigration enforcement officers to focus deportation efforts on recent arrivals and immigrants convicted of serious crimes. In a memo outlining the new guidelines, Mayorkas estimated about 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States. Arguing the country had insufficient resources to deport them all, he instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to deport only illegal immigrants who arrived after Nov. 1, 2020, who pose a public safety threat because of serious crimes, or who are convicted of or suspected of terrorism or spying.

Determining whether an immigrant is a threat is “not to be determined according to bright lines or categories,” the memo said. It urged officers to consider the type and severity of crimes in addition to mitigating factors such as being the provider for a family or having a lengthy, clean record in the time following the crime.

The new guidelines are a break from President Donald Trump’s policy of zero tolerance for illegal border crossings. But they also leave more discretion to officers than did Obama-era policies, which used strict crime categories to drive deportation decisions.

That new flexibility allows local enforcement offices to adapt to their states’ laws and to the needs of immigrant populations that vary by state, said Randy Capps, research director at the Migration Policy Institute. But it also leaves room for state politics and officers’ attitudes to influence how deportation is enforced.

The guidelines also call for officer training. Capps suggested that’s an attempt to change ICE culture so that officers practice the new deportation priorities even after President Joe Biden leaves office.

Republicans have criticized the president for encouraging immigration with softer border enforcement, while immigration advocates have criticized him for continuing the Trump administration’s practice of expelling migrants under Title 42, a public health law in force during the coronavirus pandemic.

In June, U.S. border agents stopped more than 188,000 immigrants trying to enter the country, a 21-year high. Though numbers have dipped slightly since then, Panama foreign minister Erika Mouynes told Axios last week that 60,000 mostly Haitian migrants may now be headed for the United States after 30,000 Haitians amassed at the southern border in recent weeks. The immigration surge—along with publicized photos of border officers on horseback whirling their reins near Haitian migrants—has increased pressure on the Biden administration to discourage further immigration and safely process asylum-seekers.

The new deportation guidelines don’t directly address the surge, since they only protect migrants who entered the United States illegally before November 2020. But according to Capps, the policy details may not influence immigrants as much as the general impression of a friendly administration. Combined with other immigrant-friendly moves from the Biden administration, such as its efforts to shore up Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the new guidance could encourage immigrants to take a chance on entering the United States, he said.

“All these things send signals,” Capps said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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