The Biden administration on Tuesday acted to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from making immigration arrests at courthouses, reversing a controversial Trump administration policy.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas issued directions to ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) placing new limits on arrests made at courthouses. The intent of the policy is to remove the "chilling effect" placed on migrants who were unwilling to report crimes or testify in court for fear of arrest and deportation, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Under a 2018 directive from the previous administration, ICE officers were instructed to take immigration enforcement action against "specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed."
The Trump policy was opposed by immigration rights activists and civil liberties groups who warned that illegal immigrants who were witnesses or victims of crimes would be discouraged from using the U.S. legal system for remedy.
New York state and others sued ICE to stop arrests at courthouses, calling the policy "unlawful and unconstitutional."
The new directive from the Biden administration supersedes former President Donald Trump's 2018 order, mostly ending that policy.
"Ensuring that individuals have access to the courts advances the fair administration of justice, promotes safety for crime victims, and helps to guarantee equal protection under the law," said Secretary Mayorkas. "The expansion of civil immigration arrests at courthouses during the prior administration had a chilling effect on individuals' willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement. Today's guidance is the latest step in our efforts to focus our civil immigration enforcement resources on threats to homeland security and public safety."
ICE is now instructed to only make arrests at courthouses in "limited instances," including for national security reasons, or if there is an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm to a person. Arrests made during "hot pursuit of an individual who poses a threat to public safety" or while "there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to a criminal case" are also exempted.
"The interim guidance also makes clear that civil immigration enforcement is permitted against public safety threats in the absence of hot pursuit where necessary and with prior approval," DHS said.