Department of Homeland Secretary (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas says he wants to make “significant changes” to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — an agency that has seen a rapid reduction in its enforcement scope and has seen arrests and deportations of illegal immigrants plummet since President Biden took office.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Mayorkas said that his agency is conducting a review of ICE and its priorities, and that he expects “significant changes” when that review is complete.
“What those changes will be, I am wrestling with right now, quite frankly,” Mayorkas said, the newspaper reported.
It is not clear whether Mayorkas will loosen or tighten the already-strict guidance imposed by the Biden administration on the men and women of ICE in February.
After the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a radical 100-day moratorium on deportations was shut down by a judge in response to a Texas lawsuit, the administration issued new guidance dramatically narrowing the illegal immigrants that ICE officers can target for arrest and deportation.
The new rules limit ICE officers to targeting on recent border crossers, national security threats and “aggravated felons.” While officials note that technically no one is ruled out of being deported, ICE officers who want to arrest someone outside of those categories need preapproval from a superior. Separately, DHS has also now barred ICE from making arrests at or near courthouses.
The guidance is temporary, but the effects have been dramatic. Deportations have plummeted, with less than 3,000 illegal immigrants deported in April — down 20% from March.
Arrests too dropped, going from 5,118 in January to just over 2,000 in April, according to the latest ICE numbers.
Meanwhile, ICE releases into the U.S. — both from those already here and those crossing the border and being placed into ICE custody — have increased. Between October and January, ICE was releasing between 2,500 and 3,600 immigrants a month. In February, that increased to 4,782 and increased again in March to 11,888 – and then in April to 12,726.
“We continue to use the civil immigration enforcement priorities to focus our resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety,” an ICE spokesperson told Fox News earlier this month. “ICE will continue to carry out the duties of enforcing the laws of the United States to further the security and safety of our communities.”
Republicans have accused the administration of a de facto abolition of the agency in the face of pressure who radical left-wing activists in the Democratic Party who have long called for the agency to be scrapped.
But Mayorkas has said he has a new vision for the agency.
“I really am focused on it becoming a premier national security and law enforcement agency,” Mayorkas told the Post. “I really want to elevate all of the other work [ICE] does and also ensure that its civil immigration work is well-focused in the service of the national security and public safety mission.”
But the Post reported that ICE officials describe an environment where officers spend time doing paperwork or working out as they fear making an arrest rather than missing one.
Meanwhile, Republican governors have launched legal challenges against the guidance, saying the Biden administration’s conduct is not only illegal — but puts Americans in harm’s way by allowing illegal immigrant criminals loose onto the streets.
“Practically speaking, the result of what the Biden administration is doing, it is literally slashing the amount of people being deported, slashing amount of arrests and it literally means people that are dangerous, people who are felons are being released into our communities, so that is a threat to every neighborhood and every person,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told Fox News last week.