Biden Administration Limits Immigration Enforcement at Courthouses

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently announced the reversal of a 2018 Trump administration policy concerning civil enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. The controversial policy had encouraged ICE officials to enter local courthouses nationwide to apprehend immigrants present for unrelated issues on their civil immigration violations. The former ICE director who issued the policy cited security screenings at the entry to courthouses that would prevent immigrants from possessing weapons or other contraband, thus leading to safer arrests for all parties involved.

Details of the Policy Reversal

Mayorkas’ memo officially revokes that policy, advising both ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) individuals to refrain from making civil arrests in or near courthouses, with a few exceptions. These exceptions include arrests in situations that involve a national security matter. Immigrants can still face arrests in or near courthouses if they pose an imminent risk of death, violence, physical harm, or are involved in a hot pursuit that is a threat to public safety. Finally, ICE and CBP official can still arrest immigrants if necessary due to an imminent risk that may destroy evidence needed for a criminal case. Until now, CBP officials have never had formal guidance on this issue, as the previous administration addressed the issue only for ICE officials.

Mayorkas’ explanation for the policy reversal is based on preserving equal access to the court system. Allowing immigrants to face arrests at courthouses when present on unrelated matters made many immigrants unwilling to appear in court as directed or work in cooperation with law enforcement. The policy also made it less likely that immigrants would report crimes or testify against people charged with criminal offenses.

Repercussions of Immigration Enforcement in Courthouses

One widely-publicized case involved a woman whom ICE officials arrested in a courthouse in Texas shortly after receiving a protective order against her allegedly abusive partner. This case also led domestic violence advocates to fear that immigrant victims of domestic violence would refuse to come forward, either in seeking protective orders or reporting violent incidents to the police.

Some states, including New York, sued over the policy, seeking to prevent ICE from carrying out immigration arrests in local courthouses. Federal judges temporarily halted the practice in New York and Boston. California also passed a law that banned immigration arrests in courthouses, although ICE continued to largely ignore the law.

Advocates Urge Further Policy Changes to Curb Immigration Arrests

Some immigration advocates still criticize the exceptions outlined in the policy, which are vaguely worded and not explicitly defined. As a result, they fear that ICE and CBP officers still will disproportionately target minorities in the name of national security or public safety. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Biden administration to take additional steps to limit civil immigration arrests at other historically sensitive locations, such as hospitals and schools.

Mayorkas issued the policy reversal on the same day that President Biden nominated Harris County, Texas, sheriff Ed Gonzalez as the ICE director. Sheriff Harris was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies who took action to end a Houston-area collaboration with ICE to screen detainees for immigration violations. Biden also has nominated Tucson, Arizona, police chief Chris Mangus to head up CBP and Ur Jaddou, an immigration lawyer in the Obama administration, to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Call Bashyam Global Immigration Law Group Today For help with all your immigration law needs, don’t hesitate to contact our offices at (919) 833-0840 and see how we can help. We offer comprehensive legal representation for individuals, families, and employers in all types of immigration law cases.