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New guidelines hamper immigration enforcement in ‘protected areas’

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LOS ANGELES — The Biden administration on Wednesday designated the country’s schools and hospitals, as well as a host of other locations, as off-limits for immigration enforcement, the latest sign of its commitment to protecting millions of undocumented residents from deportation while simultaneously making efforts. supplies to give them a path to legalization remain stalled in Congress.

The new guidelines, effective immediately, list “protected areas” where immigration officers must refrain from arrests, searches, subpoenas or other enforcement actions.

The sites include schools and college campuses; hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, in addition to Covid-19 testing and vaccination sites; places of worship; and places where children gather, such as playgrounds, nurseries and foster homes.

The new list is significantly longer and more specific than the list prepared during the Obama administration in 2011, which excluded enforcement actions on schools and churches. President Donald J. Trump largely ignored those policies, often leading to arbitrary arrests.

“Individuals should not be restricted or restricted in their access to essential services,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, said in an interview Wednesday before the official announcement.

“Children should not be afraid to go to school. Their parents should not be afraid to drop them off or pick them up,” he added.

Other protected sites include shelters for victims of domestic violence and the homeless, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, food pantries, and sites that provide assistance to people fleeing natural disasters. Immigration enforcement actions should also be avoided at or near funerals, parades and demonstrations.

The guidelines represent the third policy enacted by the Biden administration in recent weeks to bring “greater humanity” to immigration enforcement, Mr Mayorkas said.

They mark a sweeping shift in domestic enforcement and aim, he said, to improve the daily lives of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States have lived here for a decade or more, often with US-born children and deep ties to their communities. According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of undocumented adults are in the workforce.

A memo outlining the policy, which applies to field agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, said agents should at all times refrain “to the extent possible” from enforcement action in the type of locations on the list. ”

Any exceptions must be approved by agency headquarters, the memo said.

The guidelines come as Democrats continue to struggle to add immigration provisions to a sprawling social safety net and climate law. Opportunities include offering protected status without citizenship to some undocumented migrants, and allowing immigrants who have been in the country for more than a decade to apply for permanent legal residence.

Since taking office, President Biden has distanced himself from his predecessor’s crackdown on illegal immigration; the new guidelines are the latest in a series designed to ease domestic enforcement away from the country’s border regions.

This week, two House Republicans sent a letter to Mr. Mayorkas asking for answers about the changes in enforcement priorities.

Arizona Representative Andy Biggs deemed the new approach “an affront to the rule of law.”

“Instead of preventing ICE from enforcing the law, the Biden administration should empower them to keep our country safe,” he said in a statement.

Mr Biden has upheld some of the border policies put in place by Mr Trump to stop the influx of unauthorized migrants at the border. Yet border officials encountered a record 1.7 million migrants in the fiscal year ending September 30.

During the Trump administration, many undocumented immigrants refrained from spending time outdoors with their children and kept trips to a minimum, usually to run errands and go to work, knowing they could be stopped even if they had committed no crime.

Mr Trump rejected the discretion former President Barack Obama had exercised in enforcing immigration, instead making anyone in the country unlawfully vulnerable to deportation.

Mr Mayorkas, who has chaired the new enforcement strategy, last month issued the first set of new domestic priorities, ordering immigration and customs enforcement agents to remove only migrants from the country who had recently crossed the border or posed a threat to public safety.

Last week, Mr. Mayorkas is suspending work raids that could lead to the arrest and eventual deportation of thousands of undocumented workers. The mass raids, often at food processing plants, were a staple of immigration enforcement during the Trump administration.

“We need to look at the illegitimate population in the country and recognize their significant contribution and presence over many years,” Mr Mayorkas said, adding that the government should adopt policies protecting undocumented immigrants as Congress has so far failed to do so. managed to get them legal status.

But while the final steps are likely to receive praise from immigrant advocates, it’s unclear whether ordinary ICE officers, many of whom championed the former government’s crackdown, will obey.

“ICE and CBP have openly and brutally defied leadership in the past,” said Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which has led the fight against local police who are collaborating with immigration authorities.

“In addition to outlining and expanding sensitive sites, the secretary needs to take steps to rein in the rogue agents tasked with implementing the new priorities,” he said.

Mr Mayorkas said the implementation would be achieved through training, management and supervision of the agents.

The Biden administration has come under sharp criticism from immigrant lawyers who are frustrated that he has not made progress in delivering on his campaign promise to provide a permanent legal solution to undocumented immigrants during his first year in office.

Immigrants and their allies have held demonstrations across the country, from Washington to Los Angeles, in recent weeks to pressure Democrats to include a path to citizenship in the social safety net and climate law.

Protesters blocked traffic on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge during the morning rush hour last Thursday, demanding Senate Democrats “take immediate action to protect all immigrant families,” a statement from organizers said.

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