U.S. immigration agents to more narrowly target migrants for deportation

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – The U.S. government will narrow who immigration agents target for arrest and deportation, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Thursday, in a marked departure from the hardline approach taken by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

New guidance issued on Thursday gives agents more discretion to make case-by-case decisions, Mayorkas said, focusing primarily on those who pose a national security or public safety threats and recent border crossers.

Immigrants who have been in the United States for a lengthy period of time, who are elderly or minors or whose family members might be adversely affected by deportation could be spared enforcement, according to a memo issued Thursday. Other mitigating factors given consideration could be service in the military by the immigrant or an immediate family member or those who have been victims of a crime among other examples, the memo sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said. The new guidelines take effect in 60 days.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, pledged a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his Republican predecessor Trump. Under Trump, ICE agents were told no immigrant would be exempt from immigration enforcement including low-level offenders and non-criminals, as well as people who have been in the United States for many years.

“It is estimated there are more than 11 million undocumented or otherwise removable non-citizens in the United States,” including teachers, farmworkers and people working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the memo said. “We do not have the resources to apprehend and seek the removal of every one.”

The new guidelines do not include categories, but rather instruct the agents to look at the totality of circumstances as a way to prioritize resources.

“In the area of public safety, very often guidelines in the past have defined who is a public safety threat by looking at the issue categorically, if you have done X than you are public safety threat,” Mayorkas said. That approach “could lead to ineffective and unjust results,” he said.

Earlier interim guidelines by the Biden administration instructed ICE agents to focus on categories of immigrants deemed security threats and those who entered the United States after Nov. 1, 2020. A federal judge blocked those guidelines in August, siding with two Republican-led states – Texas and Louisiana – that had challenged them.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. judge blocks Biden’s limits on immigrant arrests, deportation

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing its guidance limiting who can be arrested and deported by U.S. immigration agents, siding with two Republican-led states – Texas and Louisiana – that had challenged it.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, in Corpus Christi, Texas, ruled that the February guidance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency violated a federal law requiring that the government “shall detain” people who commit certain crimes or are otherwise deemed eligible for deportation.

“Put simply, the Government has instructed federal officials that ‘shall detain’ certain aliens means ‘may detain’ when it unambiguously means must detain,” Tipton wrote.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden, a Democrat, has sought to roll back some of the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

The Biden administration guidelines unveiled in February, the month after Biden took office, instruct agents to focus on immigrants deemed national security and public safety threats and those who entered the United States after Nov. 1, 2020.

Under the guidelines, agents must seek pre-approval from a senior manager if they want to arrest someone who does not fall into one of those categories.

Trump had allowed ICE agents to pursue low-level offenders and non-criminals, as well as people with long ties to the United States.

The Republican attorneys general of Texas and Louisiana in an April lawsuit said dozens of convicted criminals had been released into their communities as a result of the Biden administration’s guidance, placing burdens on local law enforcement and social service programs.

The judge’s ruling blocked ICE from enforcing the guidance pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Tipton, a Trump judicial appointee, in January blocked the Biden administration’s 100-day moratorium on deportations. In a decision last week, Tipton also ordered the administration to reinstate a Trump-era policy requiring that asylum applicants be sent to Mexico to await legal proceedings.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)