WASHINGTON (AP) – Immigrant arrests in court will be more restricted than they were during President Donald Trump’s term due to a policy change announced Tuesday by the administration of President Joe Biden.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will no longer be authorized to make routine arrests in court, a practice that discouraged people from attending hearings and cooperating with police, according to the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
ICE can make arrests in court in cases involving matters of national security or if the person poses a danger to public safety. Agents can also apprehend individuals under active searches or if authorities suspect that a person could destroy evidence in a criminal case, Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the new policy.
The goal, Mayorkas noted, is to strike a balance between the administration of justice and the enforcement of immigration laws.
“The expansion of civil immigration arrests in court during the previous administration deterred the willingness of individuals to go to court or to cooperate with the police,” he added.
Some activists consider the new policy insufficient. Naureen Shah, a policy and defense attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the national security and public safety exceptions are too general and the mere presence of immigration agents near courthouses could make that people are afraid to seek legal protection, whether or not there are arrests.
Shah called on the Biden administration to also restrict the presence of ICE or elements of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in schools and hospitals, and the use of force, in addition to ending the use of force. collaboration with the local police in deportations.
“The Biden administration clearly recognizes the harm done to immigrant communities,” he said. “Now he must fulfill his commitment and end these harmful practices once and for all.”
The new policy is part of a refocusing on immigration by the Biden administration, which has canceled some of the more restrictive measures of its predecessor but has retained others, such as the public health order authorizing CBP to expel promptly to most people who have entered the United States illegally.
As part of its border control strategy, the government also announced that it will combat migrant smuggling with financial and travel sanctions, as well as other measures against smugglers, in a plan called “Operation Sentinel.”
During the Trump administration, immigration authorities came under fire from activists and some law enforcement authorities for a policy, formalized in 2018, that specifically authorized routine arrests in federal, state and local courts.
Authorities then claimed that they were forced to make arrests in court because some local jurisdictions with “sanctuary city” policies refused to cooperate with ICE and hand over foreigners who were incarcerated.
That Trump-era policy prioritized threats to public safety, such as gang members, but did not prohibit other more routine apprehensions or prevent officers from detaining family members, friends or witnesses who could face deportation.
In February, the government ordered ICE to focus only on people who are in the country and pose a threat, who have committed specific crimes, including felony and sexual crimes, or have been found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The priorities in this regard are similar to those of the administration of President Barack Obama but less strict than those of Trump, whose administration sought to arrest and deport anyone without permission in the country, regardless of their criminal record or ties to the community.