U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it will delay arresting immigrants who do not pose public safety risks and must be detained on “criminal grounds” during the coronavirus pandemic.
ICE confirmed Wednesday that its Enforcement and Removal Operations agents will focus on arresting “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds,” delaying arrests for people who do not fit that category or considering alternatives to detention. The agency did not elaborate on what alternatives would be considered.
Homeland Security Investigations, another arm of the agency, said it will continue to carry out “mission critical criminal investigations and enforcement operations” that it deems vital to maintaining public safety and national security. Those include probes into child exploitation, gangs, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking and human smuggling, according to the statement.
HSI also will continue to participate in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The announcement is the first time the agency is prioritizing who is targeted for deportation since President Donald Trump’s executive order rescinding an Obama-era policy that prioritized violent criminals and suspected gang members.
President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to crack down on legal and illegal immigration. One of his first executive orders after taking office in 2017 instructed ICE to arrest any undocumented immigrant.
ICE Boston, which oversees New England, made 2,469 administrative arrests in fiscal 2019, according to apprehension data released in December. The arrest figures were 15% lower than the previous fiscal year’s totals, which officials attributed to the rise of so-called sanctuary cities and the deployment of ICE agents to assist Customs and Border Protection at the U.S.-Mexico border.
ICE also said Wednesday night that its agents would follow its sensitive locations policy, which encourages agents not to make arrests at or near hospitals, doctor’s offices or other health care facilities, except in “extraordinary circumstances.”
Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugees Advocacy coalition, said she welcomed the news.
“Right now we cannot afford to have fear of immigration enforcement keep anyone from seeking medical care – and before this announcement, it was a major concern for us and our member organizations,” Millona said in a statement. “It is reassuring to know that ICE is committed to not carrying out enforcement operations ‘at or near’ health care facilities, and we take agency leaders at their word that exceptions will only be made ‘in the most extraordinary of circumstances.’”
ICE also suspended in-person check-ins with undocumented immigrants being monitored by the agency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Tuesday that it would suspend naturalization ceremonies and in-person appointments.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, an arm of the Department of Justice, announced late Tuesday that immigration courts would stop holding in-person hearings and would only continue the hearings of detainees, which are held over video conference.
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