Posted on October 29, 2021

New Guidance Bars Immigration Enforcement in ‘Protected Areas’

Miriam Jordan, New York Times, October 27, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday designated the nation’s schools and hospitals, as well as a wide array of other locations, off limits to immigration enforcement, the latest sign that it is committed to protecting millions of undocumented residents from deportation while efforts to offer them a path to legalization remain stalled in Congress.

The new guidelines, effective immediately, list “protected areas” where immigration agents are to refrain from making arrests, conducting searches, serving subpoenas or carrying out other enforcement actions.

The sites include schools and university campuses; hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, in addition to Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites; places of worship; and sites where children gather, such as playgrounds, day care centers and foster care facilities.

The new list is significantly longer and more specific than the one put in place during the Obama administration in 2011, which barred enforcement actions at schools and churches. President Donald J. Trump largely ignored that policy, often leading to indiscriminate arrests.

“Individuals should not be restrained or limited in their access to essential services,” said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, in an interview on Wednesday before the official announcement.

“Children should not be afraid to go to school. Their parents should not be scared to drop them off or pick them up,” he added.

Other protected sites include shelters for victims of domestic violence and homeless people, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, food pantries and sites offering help to those fleeing natural disasters. Immigration enforcement action is also to be avoided at or near funerals, parades and demonstrations.

The guidelines represent the third policy issued by the Biden administration in recent weeks with the goal of bringing “greater humanity” to immigration enforcement, Mr. Mayorkas said.

They mark a profound shift in interior enforcement, and are intended, he said, to improve the day-to-day lives of millions of undocumented immigrants.


A memo detailing the policy, which applies to field agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, said that agents must “to the fullest extent possible” refrain from enforcement action in the types of locations on the list “at all times.”


Mr. Trump rejected the prosecutorial discretion that former President Barack Obama had exercised in enforcing immigration, instead making everyone who was in the country unlawfully vulnerable to deportation.

Mr. Mayorkas, who has presided over the new enforcement strategy, issued the first set of new interior priorities last month, directing agents at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target for removal from the country only migrants who had recently crossed the border or people who posed a threat to public safety.

Last week, Mr. Mayorkas announced the suspension of work-site raids that can result in the arrest, and eventual deportation, of thousands of undocumented workers. {snip}

“We must take a look at the population unlawfully in the country and recognize their significant contribution and presence for many years,” said Mr. Mayorkas, adding that the administration needs to adopt policies that protect undocumented immigrants since Congress has failed thus far to grant them legal status.