President Joe Biden’s administration has prohibited U.S. immigration officers from making arrests in “protected areas,” including schools, churches, and COVID-19 vaccination sites, according to new guidance issued by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday.
The secretary said immigration officers need to “consider many factors” when conducting enforcement actions, including how a location can impact “other people and broader societal interests.” He highlighted concerns that arresting an illegal immigrant in an emergency shelter, for example, could lead other illegal immigrants to “be hesitant to visit the shelter and receive needed food and water, urgent medical attention, or other humanitarian care.”
According to the guidance, “protected areas” include schools from pre-school to university; medical and mental healthcare facilities; places of worship or religious study, including any temporary location where worship activities are taking place; places “where children gather,” including playgrounds, recreation centers, and school bus stops; social services establishments like shelters and food banks; funerals and weddings; or a “place where there is an ongoing parade, demonstration or rally.”
The directive stated that a “protected area” could be any place in which “essential services or activities” occur. The activities could include those that are important to “the well-being of people and the communities of which they are a part.”
“It is a determination that requires the exercise of judgment,” Mayorkas’ guidance read.
Mayorkas said the guidance applies to both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforcement actions. The rule goes into effect immediately.
“The fundamental question is whether our enforcement action would restrain people from accessing the protected area to receive essential services or engage in essential activities,” the guidance states. “Our obligation to refrain, to the fullest extent possible, from conducting a law enforcement action in or near a protected area thus applies at all times and is not limited by hours or days of operation.”
The directive recognized that “limited circumstances” would allow for an arrest to be made in a “protected area,” including the enforcement action involving a national security threat, the “hot pursuit of a personally observed border crosser,” and “a safe alternative location does not exist.”
“This principle is fundamental. We can accomplish our enforcement mission without denying or limiting individuals’ access to needed medical care, children access to their schools, the displaced access to food and shelter, people of faith access to their places of worship, and more,” he asserted. “Adherence to this principle is one bedrock of our stature as public servants.”