Department of Homeland Security

Biden expands list of ‘sensitive’ places where ICE officers cannot make arrests

the back of an officer's vest reads "POLICE ICE"

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday expanded the list of “sensitive locations” where immigration officers cannot make arrests.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and other immigration officials have long been barred from seeking to make arrests at schools and hospitals.

But Mayorkas’s memo extends the concept to a broader category of social services, directing all DHS agencies to avoid arrests at domestic violence shelters, food banks, counseling facilities and disaster response centers. 

It also bars arrests at churches, and at rallies, demonstrations or parades.

“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,” Mayorkas wrote in the memo.

He stressed the agencies’ needs to consider the broader potential impacts of an arrest.

“If we take an action at an emergency shelter, it is possible that noncitizens, including children, will be hesitant to visit the shelter and receive needed food and water, urgent medical attention, or other humanitarian care,” Mayorkas said. 

BuzzFeed News first reported the memo.

The memo in is line with several recent orders from Mayorkas giving officers a significant amount of discretion in how they carry out their job. Mayorkas in June penned a memo giving immigration prosecutors more discretion to drop what they consider low priority cases.

The Biden administration has also more broadly sought to focus immigration enforcement efforts on what it considers to be those with a serious criminal record

Mayorkas on Wednesday noted the list of protected areas is not exhaustive, encouraging officers to weigh “the importance of those activities to the well-being of people and the communities of which they are a part, and the impact an enforcement action would have on people’s willingness to be in the protected area and receive or engage in the essential services or activities that occur there.”

It also seeks to round out existing protections from arrests at schools, with Mayorkas writing that playgrounds, day care centers, and bus stops are also off-limits.

In addition to restrictions on enforcement actions at church, the memo also bars arrests at weddings, funerals, or other forms of religious study.

The memo includes exceptions for national security instances or if there is an imminent threat of violence, or when “a safe alternative location does not exist.”

Officers are again directed to use their discretion for scenarios where an arrest in a sensitive location may be necessary but they seek prior approval before making such an arrest.

Still, the level of discretion included in the memo was a concern for some advocacy groups.

“While the new directive has great potential, it could also be circumvented by agents whom the agency continues to rely on to unilaterally make complex, sensitive judgments about the applicability of the policy. Time and again, we have seen individual ICE and CBP agents, motivated by animosity toward immigrants, distort and shirk intended reforms,” Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

“DHS needs to take further steps to ensure it can detect and address abuses.”

The Wednesday directive follows another memo from Mayorkas ending workplace raids, part of a broader effort to focus on employers who run afoul of the law, rather than individual employees. 

“The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country’s unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers,” Mayorkas wrote in the memo earlier this month.

Updated at 5:11 p.m.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas ICE Immigration White House

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