WASHINGTON (AP) – In the face of bipartisan criticism over its approach to immigration, the Biden administration on Thursday announced new rules that require authorities to prosecute only migrants who have recently entered the country without permission or are considered a threat to public safety.
The new guidelines replace provisional rules released in February that were initially blocked by a federal judge in August in a lawsuit brought by Texas and Louisiana. They are breaking away from a more aggressive approach to immigration law enforcement under former President Donald Trump, who early in his presidency ordered authorities to apprehend anyone illegally in the country.
The release comes as President Joe Biden has faced criticism from allies for his reliance on a Trump-era public health authority to quickly deport migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border while facing to Republican criticism that it has not done enough to counter a surge in migrants seeking entry into the country.
The Biden administration has deported around 5,000 Haitians who crossed the US-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas in recent weeks. A Washington federal appeals court on Thursday allowed the administration to continue to deport families under the public health authority known as Title 42. The appeals court stayed an order by a lower court prohibiting family evictions hours before the ban takes effect.
Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters the new policy was based on the fact that the United States cannot go after everyone in the country without legal status and should not give it a try because so many “have contributed to members of our communities for years.”
Authorities will be asked to focus on non-citizens who have crossed recently, defined as after November 1, 2020, or who have determined they are a threat due to national security or “serious criminal activity” . Homeland Security includes United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol.
Unlike the provisional rules, criminal activity is not limited to the category known in legal terms as an aggravated crime but will depend on the “totality of the facts and circumstances,” Mayorkas said. Anyone would be considered a priority if they are engaged or even suspected of terrorism or espionage, according to the note. The new rules come into effect on November 29.
Immigration authorities would be prohibited from arresting and seeking to deport anyone in retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights, such as joining a protest or participating in union activities.
“We demand and frankly hold our workforce accountable, critically hold our workforce to exercise their judgment, their law enforcement judgment,” said the secretary.
Proponents of strict immigration enforcement criticized the interim guidelines, which were intended to be similar in intent to the newly published rules, as they were seen as a top-down approach and preventing low-level arrests that could lead to leads investigating larger cases or helping to curb illegal immigration.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Said on Twitter that Biden had “welcomed” the migrants who crossed and would now promise those already in the country “that they can stay in the United States without repercussions” with the new rules.
Immigrant advocates, including some who have in the past called for the total elimination of ICE and immigration detention, have welcomed the limits of the application, but are wary of detention and deportation rapids of thousands of Haitians in Del Rio.
“This policy will only be as good as the results,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, senior organizer of the Mijente campaign. âIf the number of detentions continues to rise, while deportations continue to occur, if we still see human rights violations at the border, this policy will mean nothing.
A Texas federal judge blocked the interim rules in August, ruling that the administration did not have the discretion to choose which migrants to detain, but a federal appeals court allowed the guidelines to take effect while the trial unfolds. trial.
Mayorkas said it made little sense to prosecute all of the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status, even if the United States had the capacity to enforce the law to do so.
âThey contribute to the well-being of our country and justice demands that we exercise our discretion accordingly,â he said. âThe fact that an individual is a revocable non-national should not in itself be the basis for enforcement action against him. “
The Trump administration has taken hundreds of steps to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including a zero tolerance policy on border crossings that has resulted in the forced separation of thousands of families and forcing asylum seekers to wait for their file to be processed in Mexico.
Ultimately, the total number of expulsions was higher under President Barack Obama‘s first term, who adopted similar enforcement priorities to Biden, than under Trump. This was in part due to a lack of cooperation from many cities and states whose leaders opposed Trump’s immigration policies.
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.