ICE starts 100-day moratorium on some deportations

(Jan 22, 2021) U.S. immigration authorities on Friday began implementing a 100-day moratorium on deportations of certain immigrants already in the country as part of a major shift in immigration enforcement policy under President Biden.

The freeze, a pledge Mr. Biden made during the campaign, will temporarily shield most immigrants facing deportation from being removed from the U.S. until May, as long as they entered the country before November 1, 2020. 

Immigrants suspected of terrorism or espionage — as well those deemed to pose a threat to national security — won’t benefit from the moratorium, which was authorized by a memo signed by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske. The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement can also decide to make an exception to the deportations freeze, and immigrants may volunteer to be deported.

Pekoske’s directive also issued new interim guidelines, set to take effect February 1, that will instruct immigration agents to focus on arresting and deporting immigrants assessed to pose a risk to national security; migrants recently apprehended along U.S. borders; and those convicted of certain crimes who have been released from federal, state or local jails.

Collectively, the deportations moratorium and new arrests priorities mark a seismic change from the Trump administration‘s immigration enforcement regime, which rendered most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. vulnerable to being picked up by ICE agents and deported.

“We’re talking about a complete 180 on what the last administration compelled ICE to do,” John Amaya, a former top ICE official during the Obama administration, told CBS News, adding that “it’s affording the agency an opportunity to return to a sense of normalcy.”

Progressive and immigrant rights groups who pushed Mr. Biden to adopt the deportations moratorium as a campaign pledge during the Democratic presidential primary have applauded his administration for following through on it. 

“We’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s really a tribute to the work of immigrant justice advocates for the last several years to educate and pressure the people who are now in charge,” Naureen Shah, a senior advocate and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told CBS News.

Some Republicans have strongly denounced the pause in deportations. On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over the moratorium, alleging in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas that DHS violated an agreement brokered during the Trump administration that purportedly requires the department to advise the state of changes in immigration policy before they’re implemented.

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