Citing the worldwide response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration on Wednesday announced it would refrain from targeting and apprehending most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who don’t pose a threat to the public.
Under its new “enforcement posture,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said its agents will only focus on detaining “public safety risks,” as well as immigrants whose criminal records require the agency to apprehend and detain them.
For everyone else, ICE said it would “exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis.”
The agency, which has come under withering criticism from advocates and Democrats for its priorities under the Trump administration, said the measures are necessary to safeguard the well-being of its personnel and the public. ICE also said it would not arrest anyone at or near hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices and other medical facilities during the pandemic, except in the “most extraordinary of circumstances.”
“Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement,” the agency said in a statement.
ICE officers, the agency said, would continue to oversee investigations into human trafficking, child exploitation, terrorism and drug trafficking.
The enforcement shift is a partial victory for advocates, who have been calling on the administration to retool its immigration enforcement priorities during the pandemic, which has killed 140 Americans.
But the announcement did not address growing calls for the agency to downsize its current detainee population to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading inside its scores of detention facilities, which were holding more than 37,000 immigrants as of last week. Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups and attorneys have urged ICE to release immigrants with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, elderly detainees and those seeking humanitarian protection and who don’t pose a threat to public safety.
ICE officials did not immediately say whether they were considering releasing certain detainees in response to the pandemic.