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US Immigration Agents to More Narrowly Target Migrants for Deportation 


Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Sept. 21, 2021, on Capitol Hill.

The U.S. government will narrow whom 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 former U.S. President Donald Trump.

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

Migrants from Haiti, who returned to the Mexican side of the border to avoid deportation, queue for breakfast at a shelter set by the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Acuna, Sept. 25, 2021.
Migrants from Haiti, who returned to the Mexican side of the border to avoid deportation, queue for breakfast at a shelter set by the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Acuna, Sept. 25, 2021.

Immigrants who have been in the United States for a long 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. Some other mitigating factors given consideration could be service in the military by the immigrant or an immediate family member or having been a victim of a crime, 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 that of his Republican predecessor, Trump. Under Trump, ICE agents were told no immigrant would be exempt from immigration enforcement, including low-level offenders and noncriminals 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 noncitizens 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 everyone."

The new guidelines do not include categories. Instead, they 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, then 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 November 1, 2020. A federal judge blocked those guidelines in August, siding with two Republican-led states — Texas and Louisiana — that had challenged them.

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