Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, September 30, 2021
Being in the U.S. illegally is no longer enough to earn deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Thursday, releasing new guidelines that limit Immigration and Customs Enforcement targets for arrest and ouster from the country.
With Democrats in Congress trying to legalize most illegal immigrants, Mr. Mayorkas said, pursuing them would be working at cross-purposes.
National security threats and those deemed risks to public safety remain priorities, as is anyone who jumped the border after Nov. 1. That’s similar to the rules ICE had been following since interim guidance came out in February.
But Mr. Mayorkas changed the public safety category to a broader assessment of criminal history. He told officers that if anyone was hurt or weapons were used, it weighs in favor of arrest. If they have been in the U.S. a long time or ousting them would hurt their families, that should weigh against arrest or deportation.
The Trump team also set priorities and said when it went after someone, it was because they had a criminal record. But ICE at the time also said anyone in the country illegally was subject to arrest and deportation.
Mr. Mayorkas’ rules mark a break with that practice, effectively carving most illegal immigrants out of any danger of removal.
He said that’s particularly true at a time when illegal immigrants are working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we strive to provide them with a path to status, we will not work in conflict by spending resources seeking to remove those who do not pose a threat and, in fact, make our nation stronger,” the secretary said.
Mr. Mayorkas’ changes managed to disappoint both sides in the immigration debate.
CASA, a major immigration advocacy group in the mid-Atlantic region, said some of the changes were improvements and praised Mr. Mayorkas for drawing a line on illegal status not being a reason for deportation.
But Nick Katz, the group’s legal director, said he was “deeply disturbed” that the Biden administration didn’t go further.
Those who want stricter immigration enforcement, meanwhile, said Mr. Mayorkas created a loophole in immigration law, granting a pass to most illegal immigrants.
ICE arrests and deportations at the beginning of the Biden administration dropped to their slowest pace on record.
Arrests of illegal immigrants are relatively rare. In 2020, ICE’s deportation force made just 103,603 administrative arrests, 90% of whom had criminal convictions or pending charges when they were nabbed.
But the Biden administration is under intense pressure from immigrant rights advocates to cut those numbers even deeper.