AILA Public Statements, Press Releases

ICE Memo Offers Promising Changes but More Reforms Are Needed

2/18/21 AILA Doc. No. 21021890.

Washington, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) welcomed changes to immigration enforcement priorities outlined in a memo from ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson. The interim guidance is effective immediately.

AILA President Jennifer Minear stated: “This memo recognizes the fundamental reality that law enforcement must be prioritized, something that occurs every day by every law enforcement agency in our country. This memo reflects the importance of community and national safety by categorizing three priorities: national security, border security, and public safety. In this alone, the memo is a dramatic and welcome departure from the indiscriminate enforcement practices of the Trump administration, practices that were designed to intimidate and terrorize immigrant communities, and that resulted in immense harm to individuals caught up as ‘collaterals,’ as well as irreparable harm caused by the separation of families, the deportation of families who have lived for years in the United States, and other extreme and deeply unjust consequences that remain unhealed wounds and a stain on our country. It’s important to note, however, that this memo does not eliminate immigration enforcement but rather takes a balanced approach to prioritizing the use of limited enforcement resources. Prioritizing enforcement doesn’t mean disregarding it. Despite what some critics may claim, this memo does not block immigration enforcement, but rather makes very clear that ICE officers retain discretion and that no one is completely off limits from apprehension, detention, or removal.”

AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson added: “This memo is an important step in what will be a long journey to reforming an immigration enforcement system that was already in disrepair when Trump took office but has now reached a crisis point after four years of extreme and inhumane policies. The memo reflects an understanding of where abuse can occur and goes further than previous ICE efforts in making a clear statement of the need to focus limited resources. But the memo should do more to provide unambiguous direction to officers in the field, and it should end the deference to unreliable and discredited terms when defining public safety threats. Among the overly broad terms is the focus on gang members as priorities, despite the well-established criticisms that the gang label is not only unreliable but also fraught with racial bias and has resulted in the wrongful and repeated targeting of people of color who have not engaged in any criminal activity. The memo makes an important effort to narrow the definition of gang, but the problem will be in the field where ICE officers have relied on police department gang databases that draw upon subjective conclusions that cannot be tested for accuracy. Unless the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or ICE establishes more rigorous methods in practice, many people are likely to be unfairly and unnecessarily targeted as priorities for enforcement. AILA and its members are ready and willing to work with the administration to address these concerns and work toward an immigration enforcement system that is effective and humane.”