President Joe Biden issued nearly 50 executive orders in his first three weeks in office. He is making sweeping policy changes by fiat, rather than working with Congress to change the laws through the legislative process. One of his biggest targets is rolling back Trump-era immigration and detention policies.
According to internal memos and emails obtained by The Washington Post, Biden’s latest move suggests a dramatic change in how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will handle arrests and deportations of illegal immigrants captured in the United States.
Agents will no longer seek to deport immigrants for crimes such as driving under the influence and assault, and will focus instead on national security threats, recent border crossers and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony convictions.
“Generally, these convictions would not include drug based crimes (less serious offenses), simple assault, DUI, money laundering, property crimes, fraud, tax crimes, solicitation, or charges without convictions,” acting director Tae Johnson told senior officials in a Thursday email advising them on how to operate while new guidelines are finalized.
The memos and emails also lay out that ICE agents seeking to arrest suspected criminals will require “prior approval from the agency’s director in Washington justifying the decision.” The draft memo also details that ICE agents must explain to the director how the requested enforcement action “constitutes an appropriate allocation of limited resources.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attempted to justify these new rules of engagement for ICE agents. During her press briefing on Monday, Psaki confirmed the existence of the memos and said that ICE would not deport illegal immigrants guilty of assault and DUI under the plan.
“Nobody is saying that DUIs or assault are acceptable behavior. And those arrested for such activities should be tried and sentenced as appropriate by local law enforcement. But we’re talking about the prioritization of who is going to be deported from the country.”
Some House Democrats seem to be pushing back on this new direction for ICE agents.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D., Texas) stressed his support for ICE agents during a Sunday Fox News appearance, noting that “large groups” of illegal immigrants have attempted to cross the border in his district in recent days.
In an interesting wrinkle that is worth watching on this story, Trump’s former acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, may have given ICE agents some leverage in immigration policy decisions made by the Biden Administration.
In a series of memorandums of understanding reported by the New York Times, Mr. Cuccinelli, whose own appointment had been deemed legally questionable, agreed with ICE’s union that the federal government would be forbidden from making any “modifications whatsoever concerning the policies, hours, functions, alternate work schedules, resources, tools, compensation and the like” affecting the agency and roughly 7,500 agents and employees — without the explicit written consent of union officials.
The memos and emails obtained by the Post are not policy and the directives being suggested must be approved by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. If approved, however, this policy would dramatically reduce the deportation of criminals from the United States.