The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced Biden’s new immigration enforcement priorities. On September 30, 2021, Secretary Mayorkas announced the release of the “Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Law” explaining that these guidelines reflect the government’s goal to better focus the Department’s resources on the apprehension and removal of migrants 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.
These priorities are not a significant change from those of President Trump and are almost identical to those of President Obama. In addition to the specific priorities listed, the rules give the individual immigration agent much more discretion in deciding whether to process an undocumented migrant for deportation. Almost exactly like the prior policy of president Obama, Biden will first focus on the deportation of individuals who are threats to national security, such as those who have committed terrorist acts or individuals associated with terrorist groups and those who seek to engage in espionage in the US.
The second priority group is the largest group of potential deportations as it focuses on those who threaten public safety in the U.S. These are generally the individuals with serious criminal histories. The approach that Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) will take in criminal deportations will be to assess the “totality of the facts and circumstances” to see if deportation is necessary. Factors ICE will use in their determination to deport or not will come down to the seriousness of the offense or conviction, the amount of harm caused by the criminal, whether a weapon was used in the crime or if the person has a serious prior criminal record.
The third official category for deportation priorities are those individuals who are considered a threat to border security in the U.S. This comes down to those individuals apprehended at the border attempting to enter illegally or caught by immigration after entering illegally after 11/1/2020 will be a priority. Although it is not clear how the administration will treat those who entered illegally into the US before November, it is important to note that these priorities are only a statement of the government’s attitude towards migrants when deciding to process a deportation. It does not mean that the administration cannot or will not seek to deport of any or all undocumented individuals who do not fit into these priorities. By law, any individual in the US without legal status is subject to deportation at any time. These priorities merely tell the public that it is unlikely that a person will be deported unless they have other underlying problems in their past, not a guarantee.
In addition to the new enforcement priorities of ICE, on October 12th president Biden announced that the US will begin lifting travel restrictions at the north and south borders for those seeking to visit family, friends or to visit the U.S. for tourism starting in November. The lifting of these restrictions, however, only apply to travelers with the covid vaccine. All other travel restrictions will remain in place. The new covid vaccine requirement applies to all travel. In the past, several groups of people were never banned from traveling across the land borders such as commercial drivers and students, but they will now be prevented from entering if they do not have proof of vaccination. Another major issue still being debated amongst the Biden administration as well as with officials within the CDC is whether to recognize travelers who have received vaccines from non-FDA approved sources. If this question is not decided soon, the decision to open the border will end up creating more issues than solutions and it will be very difficult for travelers to confidently travel to the US.
If you have any questions about ongoing changes to immigration law or with travel to the U.S., please schedule a consultation today by calling 616-805-3435.