Article written by Miriam Jordan on June 25, 2022
A Biden administration policy that prioritized the arrest of undocumented immigrants who are considered a threat to public safety and national security has been suspended as of Saturday, rendering millions of people vulnerable to deportation.
A federal judge in Texas had ruled the prioritization policy illegal on June 10, a ruling that took effect late Friday after a federal appeals court failed to issue any decision blocking it. The Department of Homeland Security said it effectively had no discretion under the ruling to set priorities for how its agents enforced the nation’s immigrant-removal laws.
“While the department strongly disagrees with the Southern District of Texas’ court decision to vacate the guidelines, D.H.S. will abide by the court’s order as it continues to appeal it,” the department said in a statement.
The removal of the guidelines is likely to renew some of the fears that plagued immigrant communities during Donald J. Trump’s presidency, when nearly anyone without legal residence was subject to arrest, though the Biden administration has pledged to take a measured approach to enforcement even without a prioritization policy.
This leaves nearly all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country theoretically open to arrest and deportation, though exactly who would be targeted and how is unclear.
“The problem with moving away from priorities is, there is no standardization, no rhyme or reason,” said Karen Tumlin, founder of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights group.
“A person here 20 years who is the parent of U.S.-citizen kids could be put in removal proceedings,” Ms. Tumlin said. “Someone dropping off their child at school who has never committed a crime could be arrested.”
Being present in the country without authorization “should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action,” the memo said. “We will use our discretion and focus our enforcement resources in a more targeted way,” aiming first at those who presented a threat to public safety or national security, it specified.
“The majority of undocumented noncitizens who could be subject to removal have been contributing members of our communities for years,” the memo said, noting that the exercise of discretion by the federal government on immigration matters was a “deep-rooted tradition” that was supported by law.
Most of the millions of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for at least a decade, often with U.S.-born children and deep ties to their communities. About two-thirds of undocumented adults participate in the work force, according to the Pew Research Center.
“The ruling will lead to more fear and uncertainty among people who have lived in our communities for years and decades,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project.
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