Biden’s limits on ICE offered hope. But immigrant advocates say he’s broken promises

When the Biden administration announced broad new limits on immigration enforcement last year, it offered hope for those fighting deportation.

But so far, some immigrants and their advocates say, the reality is falling short of the administration’s rhetoric.

“We’re a year in, and it’s not working,” says Inna Simakovsky, an immigration lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, in an interview. “I just want them to actually do the right thing, and do what they promised.”

As the Biden administration approaches its one-year mark, there’s mounting frustration among immigrant advocates at what they see as a growing list of broken promises.

Ambitious plans to overhaul the immigration system have stalled. Trump-era restrictions on asylum are still in place at the southern border — including the public health order known as Title 42, which allows authorities to quickly expel most migrants, and the return of a policy that forces some asylum-seekers to “Remain In Mexico” until their immigration court hearings. And the U.S. Department of Justice pulled out of settlement talks over financial compensation for families that were forcibly separated during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration can, however, point to some victories — including detailed guidelines laying out who should be a priority for arrest and deportation, and who should not.

“The guidance recognizes the incontrovertible fact … that the majority of undocumented individuals have contributed so significantly to our communities across the country for years,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NPR last year.

But immigration lawyers in some parts of the country say the execution of that guidance is not living up to expectations.

“If there’s anyone that deserves prosecutorial discretion, this is the case”

When Simakovsky heard about the new enforcement guidelines, she thought immediately about one of her clients in Columbus. Carol came to Ohio from Africa on a student visa more than 20 years ago, and never left. She asked us not to use her last name, or say where she’s from, because her asylum case is still pending.

Carol and her husband own a house and pay their taxes. She works in banking; her husband is a nurse. They have four kids, all U.S. citizens.

But Carol knows that their lives in the U.S. are precarious.

“If my kids are playing sports, I’ll be sitting in a corner crying because I don’t know if next year I’ll see him play,” she says in an interview. “So it’s like you live day by day. You don’t know what will happen.”

On paper, Simakovsky says Carol and her husband are exactly the kind of people that the enforcement guidance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement should help: They have no criminal records, long-standing ties to their community and a potential pathway to permanent legal status through their children. So Simakovsky wrote to ICE requesting what’s known as prosecutorial discretion — when prosecutors agree to put a case on hold, or drop it altogether.

The answer was no.

“It’s crazy,” Simakovsky says. “If there’s anyone that deserves prosecutorial discretion, this is the case.”

ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Carol’s case.

Officials say immigration enforcement guidance is working as intended but advocates say not at all

Biden administration officials insist that the immigration enforcement guidance is working as intended. Immigration arrests in the interior of the country are down significantly compared to the Trump or Obama administrations, while the number of immigrants in ICE detention is relatively low by recent standards.

In a statement, an agency spokesperson said the new guidance is intended to “better focus the Department’s resources on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who are a threat to our national security, public safety, and border security and advance the interests of justice by ensuring a case-by-case assessment of whether an individual poses a threat. ICE’s attorneys are directed to consider the exercise of discretion, consistent with this guidance.”

ICE says in a statement that it has received roughly 47,000 requests for prosecutorial discretion so far — and that it has granted 70% of those requests. But immigration lawyers around the country remain skeptical.

“The language coming from Washington is not at all the actual practice that we’re experiencing in Boston,” says Michael Kaplan, a lawyer at the firm Rubin Pomerleau.

Full article/audio segment here.

Joel Rose