The Department of Homeland Security has announced that U.S. immigration authorities will limit arrests at schools, hospitals and other “protected” areas. This is part of a larger attempt by the Biden administration to reverse the Trump administration’s enforcement approach.
Agents and officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are being directed to avoid making arrests or conduct searches at a range of sensitive locations “to the fullest extent possible.” This new policy was stated in a memo from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The new policy includes not just schools but medical and daycare facilities, playgrounds and recreation centers as well as demonstrations and rallies. It is the latest in a series of immigration policies under President Biden aimed at taking a more targeted approach to enforcement. The policy is similar to one under President Barack Obama that restricted arrests at churches and schools.
However, this new policy will not be viewed favorably by many of President Biden’s critics, who believe that weaker enforcement encourages migrants to seek to enter the country illegally. But it is certainly in contrast to the Trump administration which sought to arrest and remove anyone in the country illegally regardless of criminal history or community ties.
Secretary Mayorkas has argued that his agency does not have the resources to pursue all of the estimated 11 million people in the country without legal status and that it should focus on those who pose the greatest risk to society. Guidelines issued earlier this year for immigration enforcement directed agents to focus on recent border crossers, national security threats and people who have committed serious crimes. DHS also imposed limits on arrests at courthouses when people showed up for other matters. In announcing the new policy guidelines, the secretary said agents and officers should consider “broader societal interests” and the impact of their activities on communities.
The list of protected areas includes broad categories such as “a place where children gather” and “a place where disaster or emergency response and relief is being provided,” an expansive policy that marks a significant shift for an agency that includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Border Patrol.
Exceptions include when the action involves a national security threat; if there is an imminent risk of death, violence or physical harm to a person; if it involves the “hot pursuit” of someone who poses a public safety threat and someone who was personally observed crossing the border without legal authorization. Other exceptions would be if there is an imminent risk that evidence material to a criminal case would be destroyed or if a safe alternative location does not exist. Otherwise, agents or officers would have to get approval before taking an enforcement action “in or near” a protected area.