(CNN) — The number of immigrants arrested and deported for staying illegally in the United States fell under Biden, after his administration reduced controls to target those who may pose a threat or have a criminal record, marking a policy shift. of the Trump administration.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) has sought, during the Biden administration, to prioritize in its actions immigrants who pose a threat to national security, border security and public safety. . The change was prompted by a decree Biden signed shortly after taking office.
The first to report the drop in arrests and deportations was The Wall Street Journal.
In March, ICE arrested 2,214 undocumented immigrants, down from the 6,679 it detained in December, Trump’s last full month in office.
Earlier this year, the agency implemented tailored screening guidelines in a return to Obama-era measures. The guidelines are based on a priority system rather than the more aggressive approach taken under the Trump administration. The guidelines attempt to “focus resources on the most pressing challenges we face in national security, public safety and border security,” a senior ICE official told CNN on Tuesday.
The guidelines appear intended to restrain an emboldened agency under the last administration, with strict parameters for ICE officials, particularly in the event that an undocumented immigrant who is not part of the target is found.
‘Many more arrests of serious criminals than of grandmothers’
“If everyone is a priority, then no one is a priority, so we have to make some decisions about where to focus our resources,” said the ICE official, who pointed to the limits of those resources.
The ICE official said the changes boil down to “many more arrests of serious criminals than grandmothers” and other so-called collateral arrests, that is, of immigrants found by authorities who are not the target of the arrest.
The Trump administration made headlines for ICE operations targeting families and a large-scale raid on a workplace. Now, under Biden’s administration, ICE field offices have been instructed to coordinate their operations and obtain prior approval for law enforcement and removal actions that do not meet the priority case criteria.
When ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson introduced the new guidelines earlier this year, he said they would help “better coordinate our efforts, achieve consistency in our operations, and inform the development of the secretary’s new law enforcement guidelines. ».
Immigrant deportations drop
The policy change has received criticism both for and against from workers, the ICE official said.
“Of course there are officials who do not like this approach as much as others. And others are very grateful for the change and are implementing it with enthusiasm, ”said the ICE official.
Success with the new approach is going to need communication from managers to the field, repetition and a change in tone and message, the official said. This is something the agency is working on “every day.”
Deportations also fell during the Biden administration. Last month, the agency deported 2,886 people, down from the 5,838 deported in December and 10,353 last October.
There are also fewer immigrants in ICE custody, something the official attributed to the COVID-19 restrictions. As of March, the average daily number of people in ICE detention for the current fiscal year was 15,914. In fiscal 2020, that average was 33,724 and in 2019 it was 50,165.
On the day of the inauguration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would halt deportations for 100 days, with a few exceptions. However, a federal judge in Texas blocked the moratorium, a blow to one of Biden’s early immigration actions.
The administration argued that such a break would give DHS time to review agency policies. Meanwhile, the agency’s control priorities were maintained and arrests and deportations slowed significantly.
‘Focus ICE resources’
The official said Tuesday that during the Trump administration there was a “lack of focus” on ICE. He further stated that when law enforcement agencies do not have a clear focus and allocation of resources, this has disadvantages for public safety.
“What we are trying to achieve is to focus ICE resources on elements that are really threats to public safety, threats to national security and that they help to reinforce, they help to establish strong border security,” said the ICE official.
DHS is expected to issue department-wide guidelines on law enforcement and deportations later this year. As part of that process, ICE is working with its agents on the ground and with its state and local partners to evaluate the current interim guidelines, the ICE official said.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and María Santana contributed to this report.