The Biden administration sends mixed signals to undocumented migrants

Some ICE agents have chafed under the Biden administration’s shift to more lenient policies than those pursued by the Trump administration; meanwhile, immigration advocates have slammed the administration for not easing up enough.

by Editorial Board, Washington Post

An estimated two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for more than a decade, and many in that cohort arrived at least 15 years ago. It is preposterous to think that deportation agents would target those long-term unauthorized residents, the vast majority of whom pose no threat to public safety or national security.

Yet in announcing new deportation guidelines Thursday, the Biden administration left ambiguous the question of whether its arrest priorities would exclude most noncitizens who have spent years in U.S. communities as neighbors, workers, and, in some cases, owners of businesses and homes. In effect, the guidelines amount to an ill-defined, ongoing negotiation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government’s deportation arm. With good reason, it will leave many unauthorized migrants concerned about their foothold in this country.

Some ICE agents have chafed under the Biden administration’s shift to more lenient policies than those pursued by the Trump administration; meanwhile, immigration advocates have slammed the administration for not easing up enough. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made clear that with some exceptions, he is leaving enforcement to the discretion of ICE agents themselves — “to exercise their judgment, their law enforcement judgment.” That marks a shift from the administration’s stance earlier this year, when it imposed strict rules intended to limit arrests and deportations, including requiring multiple layers of approval from supervisors.

Still, the secretary’s latest guidance did make some reasonable distinctions. Its thrust is to foreclose the sort of no-holds-barred policies that served as Donald Trump’s North Star when it came to immigration enforcement, and that functioned as a gratuitous means to frighten immigrant communities.

For starters, Mr. Mayorkas instructed ICE agents to target migrants who represent a serious threat to public safety or national security, including those who have committed crimes causing real harm or using a firearm. Recent illegal entrants, especially single adults, will also be targets for removal — a useful way to reinforce the administration’s largely ineffectual efforts until now to discourage illegal border crossing.

At the same time, agents were discouraged from detaining old and very young migrants, as well as those whose removal might rupture a family. “Dreamers” brought to the United States as children by their parents — who number well more than 1 million — as well as farm and health-care workers are also largely excluded from arrest under the new policy, as are migrants who may have been reported to ICE because they spoke out against what the secretary called “unscrupulous” landlords or employers.

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