U.S. News

Biden admin. bars immigration enforcement in 'protected areas'

By Darryl Coote   |   Oct. 28, 2021 at 2:23 AM
Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued new guidance on Wednesday directing agents to not perform enforcement actions in locations important to the community, such as schools and playgrounds. File Photo by Al Drago/UPI

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Biden administration has issued guidance limiting the locations where immigration enforcement can be performed.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday issued the new guidance in a memo instructing immigration agents from conducting arrests, searches, seizures and the serving of charging documents and subpoenas, among other actions, in areas "that would restrain people's access to essential services or engagement in essential activities."

Examples of such areas include schools, medical facilities, places of worship, religious ceremonies and public demonstrations as well as social services establishments, such as domestic violence shelters and victim services centers.

Playgrounds, childcare centers, recreation centers, school bus stops and other places where children gather were also listed as protected areas.

"In our pursuit of justice, including in the execution of our enforcement responsibilities, we impact people's lives and advance our country's well-being in the most fundamental ways," Mayorkas said in a statement. "As a result, when conducting an enforcement action, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and [Customs and Border Protection] agents and officers must first examine and consider the impact of where actions might possibly take place, their effect on people and broader societal interests."

DHS agents, Mayorkas said, must use their judgement to determine whether a location is a protected area.

The new guidance was issued as President Joe Biden's Department of Homeland Security has sought to replace Trump's more stringent immigration policies with what he has called a fair and humane immigration system.

On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to reverse the expansion of immigration enforcement that occurred under the Trump administration, which was followed by ICE in February being instructed to focus enforcement and removal resources on priority cases.

In April, Mayorkas directed agents to not conduct arrests in or near courthouses, replacing a January 2018 directive permitting them to do so.

In June, ICE prosecutors were given more discretion to drop immigration cases.

And last week, Mayorkas issued a memo directing agents to not conduct arrests on worksites while shifting focus to "unscrupulous employers" who exploit undocumented workers by paying them substandard wages.

The moves, however, have been met with pushback from Republicans.

On Tuesday, Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona and James Comer of Kentucky sent Mayorkas a letter demanding answers over the loosening to immigration guidance, which they called "an affront to the rule of law."

"Instead of preventing ICE from enforcing the law, the Biden administration should be empowering them to keep our country safe," they said, while demanding that Mayorkas, the first Latino to head the department, be removed from his post.

Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called Wednesday's guidance "an important step forward" but said more has to be done to limit abusive immigration enforcement actions.

"While the new directive has great potential, it could also be circumvented by agents whom the agency continues to rely on to unilaterally make complex, sensitive judgments about the applicability of the policy," Shah said in a statement. "DHS needs to take further steps to ensure it can detect and address abuses, including prohibiting its agents from blocking public recording or documentation of CBP and ICE agents' behavior and presence in protected areas."