Report: Confusion, chaos at U.S. border over Biden directives, set to reduce deportations by 80%

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WASHINGTON, DC — President Joe Biden’s latest directive to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers is leading to conflicting claims that his administration is both allowing a huge influx of illegal migrants into the U.S. while simultaneously deporting many of them despite his pledge not to do so.

The directive was issued as a seven-page memo on Feb. 18 by Biden’s Acting Director Tae D. Johnson, who sent it to all ICE employees. The memo outlines the interim guidance for civil immigration enforcement and removal priorities, which are effective immediately.

The memo calls for a reduction of enforcement priorities for ICE officers. Critics say that reduction will end up prohibiting about 80 percent of illegal migrant deportations.

Details of Biden’s initiative were reported on Feb. 18 by Washington Post, which explained that the 90-day rules will block most deportations:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will need preapproval from a senior manager before trying to deport anyone who is not a recent border crosser, a national security threat or a criminal offender with an aggravated-felony conviction, according to interim enforcement memo issued by the Biden administration Thursday.”

In addition, Washington Post reported the large number of criminal convictions or pending charges of arrestees:

“The 93,000 individuals arrested by ICE officers in the U.S. interior last year had more than 374,000 criminal convictions or pending charges on their records, but only about 10 to 20 percent appear to be the kind of aggravated felony convictions that would make them a priority under Biden’s rules, ICE statistics show.”

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The memo also downplays threats to U.S. citizens by stating:

“General criminal activity does not amount to a national security threat.”

Breitbart noted:

“The Biden policy is largely intended to prevent the detention and removal of long-present illegals — including illegals with criminal records — during routine operations following Biden’s promised an amnesty to illegals in the United States on January 1.

“The new policy will require ICE officers to stand aside when most illegals are being released from state and local prison, especially if the illegals have U.S.-born children.”

 A key point the memo made was that ICE operates with limited resources:

“Due to these limited resources, ICE has always prioritized, and necessarily must prioritize, certain enforcement and removal actions over others.”

The memo further stated on page 3 that ICE officers’ actions must “be a justified allocation of ICE’s limited resources” and that any deviation from that priority may subject the officers to an “advance review.”

On page 5, the memo states that “to ensure compliance,” ICE will require its field offices to “collect data on the nature and type of enforcement and removal actions they perform.”

Page 7 explains that there will also be weekly reporting on all enforcement and removal actions:

“The Director will review all enforcement actions to ensure compliance with this guidance and consistency across geographic areas of responsibility and to facilitate a dialogue between headquarters and field leadership about the effectiveness of the interim priorities.”

However, others feel that Biden’s latest ICE guidance completely backtracks from his 100-day deportation moratorium pledge and is a return to the enforcement policies of the Obama administration.

Biden first promised to halt all deportations during his first 100 days in office during a CNN town hall just before the Nevada caucuses. The transcript of Biden’s remarks include him saying:

“We have a right to protect the border. But the idea — and by the way, nobody — and some of you are going to get mad at me with this — but nobody is going to be deported in my first 100 days until we get through the point that we find out the only rationale for deportation will be whether or not — whether or not you’ve committed a felony while in the country.”

Biden reiterated his support for a moratorium during a March 2020 primary debate between himself and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Last August, Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates told The Intercept’s Aida Chávez that the moratorium “absolutely remains his position” and “will not change at any point.”

Yet, critics say Biden’s position changed immediately upon taking office.

Law & Crime noted:

“Under the memo, ICE is directed to focus on three tiers of ‘enforcement and removal’ (deportation) priorities:

(1) undocumented immigrants who are deemed to be or who are suspected of being a national security threat;

(2) undocumented immigrants who entered or attempted to enter the country ‘on or after November 1, 2020;’ and

(3) undocumented immigrants convicted of certain felony and gang-related offenses.

“Under Trump, enforcement priorities all-but vanished as ICE was essentially given carte blanche and encouraged to deport as many undocumented immigrants as agency staff saw fit.

“There are also a few key differences between Biden’s enforcement priorities and those under Obama. Whereas Biden’s crime-focused deportation guidance (priority number three) calls for the deportation of those with ‘aggravated felonies’ (a broad suite of federal crimes in the context of non-U.S. citizens), Obama called for the deportation of people with a ‘significant misdemeanor’ as the baseline.”

Law & Crime also pointed out that the memo “notably” expands the administration’s enforcement priorities:

“The administration’s crime-focused priority section originally applied to ‘individuals incarcerated within federal, state, and local prisons and jails released on or after the issuance of this [January 20, 2021] memorandum.’

The new ICE guidance, however, applies to any undocumented immigrants with certain convictions who have ever been incarcerated at any point in their lives.”

In addition, instead of pausing all deportations, Biden’s policy only applies to undocumented immigrants who arrived prior to Nov. 1, 2020, a loophole. Law & Crime said:

“Any undocumented immigrants subject to deportation after that date were left out of the equation. So were any who ‘voluntarily agreed to waive any rights to remain in the United States.’ Immigration attorneys at the time protested to note that ICE agents often obtain such ‘voluntarily’ agreements under threats and duress.

“Also cut out of the limited-nature ‘moratorium’ were any undocumented immigrants who had ‘engaged in or [who were] suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise’ believed to pose a national security danger.

“Additionally, the head of ICE was given discretionary authority to institute deportations at-will ‘following consultation with the [agency’s] General Counsel.’

“Since that order was issued, however, deportations generally showed no signs of stopping.”

Immigration rights advocates and activists are very upset about what they perceive as an about-face from Biden already.

On Feb. 1, Associated Press reported that hundreds of immigrants, including a witness to a massacre, had already been deported under Biden’s watch:

“In recent days, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported immigrants to at least three countries: 15 people to Jamaica on Thursday and 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras on Friday. More deportation flights were scheduled.”

One of those deported included a witness to the 2019 massacre at a Texas Walmart, according to Associated Press:

“In the border city of El Paso, Texas, immigration authorities on Friday deported a woman who witnessed the 2019 massacre at a Walmart that left 23 people dead.

She had agreed to be a witness against the gunman and has met with the local district attorney’s office, according to her lawyers.

“Rosa was pulled over Wednesday for a broken brake light, detained based on previous traffic warrants, then transferred to ICE, which deported her before she could reach her attorney, said Melissa Lopez, executive director of the nonprofit Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, which represents her. 

“Rosa is being identified only by her first name because she fears for her safety in Juarez, a city across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso that’s known for violence and gang activity. 

“Jail records confirm that Rosa was booked into the El Paso jail on Wednesday for the warrants and left Friday. ICE had issued what’s known as a ‘detainer,’ seeking to hold her on immigration violations the day she was arrested, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. 

“The El Paso district attorney’s office confirmed in a statement Monday that it had given Rosa’s attorneys the documentation needed to request a U.S. visa for crime victims. But the statement also said Rosa ‘is not a victim of the Walmart shooting case.’ The district attorney did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.”

Rosa’s attorney Melissa Lopez told Associated Press:

“It’s important that President Biden and Vice President Harris realize that despite their very clear desires about how immigrants are treated, we continue to see on a local level immigrants being mistreated and disregarded.”

In a statement, Naureen Shah of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed profound disappointment in the Biden administration:

“The memo is a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration’s earlier commitments to fully break from the harmful deportation policies of both the Trump and Obama presidencies.

“While the Biden administration rightly acknowledges that immigrants are our family members, our coworkers, and our neighbors, for now it has chosen to continue giving ICE officers significant discretion to conduct operations that harm our communities and tear families apart. 

“The interim enforcement priorities detailed today import the injustices of the criminal legal system and will lead to continued disproportionate deportations of Black and Brown immigrants.

“The priorities use sweeping and overbroad presumptions of threat that have for decades resulted in biased profiling and harmful immigration consequences for Black and Brown people, including Muslims.

“The priorities presume that all recent border crossers are threats, in total contravention of President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that people seeking asylum are treated with dignity.

“We expect better from the Biden administration….”

The memo will be replaced by another set of rules to be issued in less than 90 days by Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. At this point, it is unknown how different the rules may become in the near future.

Biden’s seemingly inconsistent border policy creates political risks for him. Some will blame him for deaths and damage allowed by the official release of illegal migrants into the U.S., and others will say he has backtracked on his pledge by deporting them back to unsafe countries.

Others say his latest directive is not really a game changer as it appears like it is just one step forward going backward.

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