For Immediate Release: October 1, 2021

WE ARE HOME CAMPAIGN: The Biden Administration’s New Immigration Enforcement Guidelines Fall Short, Fail to Protect Immigrant Communities and Asylum Seekers

Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued his long-awaited agency guidance on immigration enforcement. The guidance, which is the product of extensive agency-wide review and engagement with stakeholders including immigrant community leaders and advocates, provides directives to the DHS workforce to guide their enforcement decisions, including who they choose to arrest or deport and when they exercise prosecutorial discretion.

Despite extensive advocacy and input from immigrant communities, the guidance fails to meaningfully fulfill the Biden Administration’s commitments to make the immigration system more fair and humane, and to advance racial equity.

Leaders across the We Are Home campaign issued the following statements.

Bridgette Gomez, Campaign Director for the We Are Home campaign, said: 

“When President Biden was elected, we were hopeful that he would live up to his commitments to create a more just and humane immigration system and to champion racial equity for all, including Black and brown immigrants and asylum seekers. Unfortunately, this Administration is failing to follow through on its promises.

In continuing a misguided enforcement-driven approach that encourages the targeting of immigrants and asylum seekers as risks to public safety, national security, and border security, the Administration is continuing to disregard the rights and humanity of immigrant communities in the U.S. and people seeking protection at the border.

We are heartened to see that the Administration has heard the demands of our coalition in no longer categorically targeting people for deportation based on interactions with the criminal legal system and in respecting the rights of workers, tenants, and others. But make no mistake: our communities remain at risk. The We Are Home campaign urges the Administration to actively partner with immigrant communities to follow through on its commitments and to hold the DHS and ICE workforce accountable to the principles of justice and fairness highlighted in this guidance.

Without accountability and follow through, the guidance is just words on paper. Ultimately, the Administration must shrink the size of the enforcement system altogether.”

Jacinta Gonzalez, Senior Campaign Organizer, Mijente, said:

“On the campaign trail, now-President Biden was very clear: he would bury the American tradition of criminalizing asylum seekers, treat migrants with respect and humanity, and put privately run immigration detention centers firmly in America’s past.

Today, with the release of the new prosecutorial discretion memo (PD Memo) immigration, organizers continue to feel whiplash.

The memo maintains the status quo, targeting all recently-arrived migrants — including asylum seekers — as priorities for deportation. By failing to meaningfully change the guidelines that determine how ICE handles enforcement at the border, the Biden Administration continues to align itself with the cruelty that outraged America during President Trump’s term.

However, we are encouraged that the memo reflects some of the critical demands around anti-criminalization that were hard-fought by organizers. For the first time, a criminal conviction will no longer automatically make someone a priority for deportation.

This memo will be judged by its on-the-ground implementation. We must see arrests, detention, and deportation numbers decline significantly. We must see ICE agents held accountable. We will continue to monitor ICE’s actions and organize for immigrants to be recognized as full human beings.”

Stacy Suh, Program Director of Detention Watch Network, said: 

“Ultimately, the prosecutorial discretion memo can only do so much in an immigration system that criminalizes and targets people who are navigating their immigration case. Reducing the scale of the immigration enforcement, detention, and deportation apparatus is one of the most concrete ways to protect migrant communities. The Biden administration must deliver on his campaign promises and shut down detention centers and halt any plans for detention expansion.”

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project, said: 

“President Biden promised to create a more humane and just immigration system, but this memo falls far short of delivering what our communities need: bold and fundamental transformation, not changes around the edges to the same detention and deportation machinery.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of IIRIRA, we are reminded of the pressing need to disentangle our immigration and criminal legal systems. While we are encouraged by the shift away from categorical exclusions, we are extremely concerned that the ‘national security’, ‘border security’, and ‘public safety’ framing will continue to target Black, Brown, Muslim, Arab, Asian, and other immigrants of color, and feed the detention and deportation machines.

Having seen the horrific mistreatment of Haitian migrants at the border this past month, we are especially appalled to see DHS label migrants who attempt to cross the border outside of ports of entry as ‘threats to border security.’ With Title 42 in place, asylum seekers have virtually no other way to enter the country. The perpetuation of these false narratives is precisely what leads to the cruel treatment migrants experience at the border.

We urge the Biden administration to hear the demands of our communities and take immediate and concrete steps to disentangle these systems; invest in communities; and keep families and communities together.”

Nick Katz, Legal Director, CASA, said:

“While we welcome some of the improvements made in this updated enforcement guidance – including the directive not to target someone simply for being undocumented – we are deeply disturbed that DHS did not take this opportunity to engage in a broad rethinking of immigration enforcement that focuses on immigrants as people, not as priorities for deportation.

Despite the encouraging language mandating that DHS consider the totality of the circumstances in every case, by maintaining categories that label someone as a ‘priority’ based on an arbitrary date of entry to the country, or an interaction with our deeply flawed criminal legal system, DHS has continued down the same failed path it has walked for the past two decades. This guidance will ensure that thousands of immigrants every year are funneled into an inhumane detention system that cages asylum seekers, while fighting for their lives in courts where the odds are stacked against them – if they ever even get to see an immigration judge at all.

We call on Secretary Mayorkas to ensure that the commitment to accountability in this guidance is realized by establishing meaningful systems of review and oversight that value the fundamental dignity of all people. Policy shifts under the Obama administration too often failed because DHS officers simply refused to implement them. This time, DHS must guarantee real accountability for agency staff and private contractors who fail to implement reforms or continue to engage in abusive practices including civil rights violations.”

Yaritza Méndez, Co-Organizing Director at Make the Road New York, said: 

“The Department of Homeland Security’s new enforcement memo is deeply disappointing to immigrant communities across the country. While it takes the important step of not creating categorical criminal bars to receiving discretion, this new guidance memo falls short of the Biden administration’s commitments and promises to create a fair and humane immigration system by continuing to rely on a racist criminal legal system and to discriminate against asylum seekers coming to our borders. In recent weeks, we have witnessed the horrific cruelty by CBP against Black migrants seeking protection. We also continue to see evidence every day of the coercive and harmful effects of a biased and broken criminal legal system, particularly on communities of color. Left to use their own discretion, agencies like ICE have an alarming history of terrorizing, detaining and separating communities. We cannot continue to build on a system that inflicts harm on our immigrant communities.

We urge the Biden administration to aggressively and affirmatively monitor ICE offices to stem unjust and harmful enforcement practices. We also urge the administration to revisit these guidelines and publish revisions that halt criminalization of immigrants, end detention of all people and ensure immigrants are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. In addition, we demand accountability for all agencies who continue to engage in unjust and inhumane enforcement practices.”

Cynthia Garcia, National Campaigns Manager for Community Protection of United We Dream, said:

“We need humane leadership from the Biden administration to urgently address the needs of immigrant communities who have historically been excluded from meaningful legislation and continue to face the threat of detention, deportation, and death at the hands of ICE and CBP.

As years of continuous abuse against Black and brown immigrants have proven, immigration enforcement has often ignored guidelines and continued to operate with anti-Blackness and white supremacy as its core mission.

This leads to the continued profiling and criminalization of people in our communities. While organizers nationwide fought hard for this memo to include anti-criminalization demands, the Biden administration must understand that our communities need more than words on paper. We need action that fulfills our vision to keep all immigrants safe. The Biden administration must defund immigration enforcement now!”

Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, said:

“The memo includes some meaningful improvements, including new protections from retaliation for tenants as well as for workers asserting their rights, which is an important first step in ensuring all workers can do their jobs safely and exercise their legal rights without fearing employer intimidation, arrest, or deportation.

However, the memo places a dangerous amount of discretion in the hands of ICE agents. Given the agency’s long history of operating – and even rewarding – a culture of cruelty and impunity, it is crucial for the agency to commit to ensuring that these priorities are implemented fairly and justly, and that DHS leadership ensures ICE agents are held accountable.”

Heidi Altman, Director of Policy, National Immigrant Justice Center, said: 

“This memo continues to place too much power over people’s fates and freedom in the hands of a corps of officers with an extensive history of racial profiling, due process violations, and human rights abuses. Inexcusably, the new enforcement guidelines prioritize the deportation of anyone who crosses the southern U.S. border without permission, which we fear officers will interpret to include asylum seekers and families who have been barred from requesting protection as the Biden administration continues to block asylum seekers from ports of entry. The secretary has a responsibility to oversee an immigration system that upholds justice and dignity. Unfortunately, these guidelines fall far short of the changes needed to achieve that vision.”

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We Are Home is a nationwide campaign to fight for immigrant communities on three fronts: prioritizing and demanding a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; a moratorium and overhaul of interior enforcement; and broad affirmative relief from deportation. We Are Home is co-chaired by Community Change/Community Change Action; National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)/Care in Action; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); United Farm Workers/UFW Foundation; and United We Dream.