The Biden administration has unveiled new guidelines this week for federal immigration enforcement that prioritize the most urgent threats to public safety, while still leaving discretion in the hands of individual officers and agents.
"What we have done is we have guided our workforce to exercise its discretion to focus on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NPR.
Under the new guidance, outlined in a memo from Mayorkas to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies, simply being present in the U.S. without legal authorization "should not alone be the basis" for immigration authorities to arrest or deport someone.
For many, ICE became the de facto face of former President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown, as agents were free to arrest anyone they encountered who was in the country illegally. With these new guidelines, the Biden administration is trying to distance itself from those policies.
It is an "incontrovertible fact," Mayorkas said, that "the majority of undocumented individuals ... have contributed so significantly to our communities across the country for years. They include individuals who have worked on the front lines in the battle against COVID, teach our children, do the backbreaking farm work to help deliver food to our table."