National Security

ICE directed to avoid deportation of victims of crime

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The Biden administration is directing its immigration enforcement officials to abstain from arresting those seeking to stay in the U.S. after becoming victims of crime.

A memo released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Wednesday notes that Congress created immigration benefits to “encourage noncitizen victims to seek assistance and report crimes committed against them despite their undocumented status.”

The law allows for victims of human trafficking and other victims of crimes assisting law enforcement to regularize their status in the U.S., a process that can linger as applications are processed. ICE officers have been instructed not to take those individuals into custody.

“This policy update facilitates victim cooperation with law enforcement, enhances ICE’s criminal investigative efforts, and promotes trust in ICE agents and officers enforcing our laws. It is ICE’s commitment to assist victims of crime regardless of their immigration status,” acting Director Tae Johnson said in a release. 

“Through this approach, we minimize the fear of repercussions that enforcement decisions may have on the willingness and ability of noncitizen crime victims to contact law enforcement, participate in investigations and prosecutions, pursue justice, and seek benefits,” Johnson added.

Jorge Loweree, policy director with the American Immigration Council, said the memo is a departure from the tactic of other administrations, which had defined various groups of noncitizens ICE officers should prioritize but hadn’t drawn strict guardrails around “the rest of these populations that doesn’t fit into these priorities outlined by any administration.”

The Biden administration, similarly to the Obama administration, in February directed ICE agents to focus their deportation efforts on those with serious criminal records.

The risk, Loweree said, is that even when given instruction, implementation has varied, with some ICE officers deviating and seeking to deport those not identified as a priority. 

“So implementing guidance that specifically instructs line personnel to avoid going after populations in specific circumstances is absolutely critical,” he said.

“This is a great first step and important, but it illustrates this is something the administration can do, that they will not go after certain populations, that this is something they can implement and operationalize and hopefully they will identify other populations that will be shielded affirmatively from enforcement,” Loweree added.

The Biden administration has taken other actions to limit ICE interaction with certain populations, directing ICE officers to limit arrest and deportation of those who are pregnant and nursing. And in June the administration also gave ICE attorneys more discretion to drop cases against those not considered a priority. 

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