The Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday evening that it would suspend the deportation of certain non-citizens for 100 days from January 22nd and fulfill one of President Joe Biden's key campaign pledges on immigration policy.
The agency said in a statement that the moratorium will allow it "to review and reset enforcement priorities" after the Trump administration sought to ensure that undocumented immigrants – including families and longtime US citizens – are safe from deportation were.
"The hiatus will help DHS ensure its resources are used in responding to the United States' most pressing challenges, including the immediate operational challenges on the Southwest Frontier amid the worst global public health crisis in a century." said the agency.
Given the limited resources of the immigration authorities, presidents usually determine which classes of immigrants should be prioritized for deportation. Under former President Barack Obama, these were people who posed a threat to national security, immigrants convicted of serious crimes, and recent cross-border commuters.
Trump has essentially eliminated these priorities. The moratorium is designed to give Biden an opportunity to reassess where immigration authorities should allocate resources.
According to a memo from incumbent DHS Secretary David Pekoske, the moratorium applies to all non-citizens in the US who have been deported by an immigration judge, unless they arrived after November 1 or voluntarily gave their right of residence to US with full coverage Knowledge of the consequences and the possibility of obtaining legal representation.
Non-citizens can still be deported if they have engaged in terrorism or espionage or if they are suspected of doing so, or if they otherwise pose a threat to national security. The head of the US Immigration and Customs Service can also intervene on a case-by-case basis to order the deportation.
It is not clear how far the Biden government intends to apply these outsourcing, but they leave much to the agency's discretion. Some immigration lawyers have raised concerns that people who give up their right to stay in the United States are often forced to do so by ICE officials and could be unfairly excluded from deportation assistance.
The memo also outlines the Biden government's interim enforcement priorities, reflecting the president's promises in the campaign to only deport those convicted of a crime, and specifically not those with a DUI. In contrast, Obama had deported immigrants with DUIs and minor offenses.
Biden's position on a deportation moratorium developed over the course of his election campaign. In November 2019, he caught an immigration activist asking him in a South Carolina town hall if he would support politics. He said he would only prioritize deportations of those who have committed a crime or a serious crime and told the activist to "vote for Trump" if that was not good enough.
Under pressure from immigrant lawyers, he finally promised to implement the moratorium last February. It was a signal that Biden, who once struggled as Vice President responding to criticism of record deportations, would not simply revert to the status quo of immigration enforcement under Obama.
"This 100-day hiatus is a sigh of relief for so many people," Lynn Tramonte, director of the Ohio Immigrant Advocacy Group, said in a statement. "After four brutal years of gruesome and truly incomprehensible deportations, the US government appears ready to use common sense in enforcing civil immigration laws."
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