The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, announced Wednesday that it would halt some immigration enforcement and deportation efforts while the United States tries to halt the spread of coronavirus.
ICE says it will, instead, focus its efforts on fugitives deemed an immediate threat to the public or those under a “mandatory deportation” order “due to criminal history,” Fox News reports.
The agency issued a statement on social media Wednesday night.
— ICE (@ICEgov) March 19, 2020
“To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, [ICE] will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning today, March 18, 2020. ICE’s highest priorities are to promote life-saving and public safety activities.”
“During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” the agency added. “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”
ICE does, however, do more than just intercept, arrest, and deport individuals suspected (or convicted) of violating the United States’ immigration laws. It also conducts investigations into “child exploitation, gangs, narcotics traficking, human trafficking, [and] human smuggling” and works in partnership with other terrorism task forces handling those threats.
ICE says that those investigations will continue while other operations are suspended.
Department of Homeland Security acting head, Ken Cucinelli, told Fox News that people should not assume deportations and other critical actions have been suspended but rather, operations are being reconfigured for officer safety: “That does not mean that no other removable aliens will in fact be removed, but during the current public health situation, removals will be done in such a way as to minimize the exposure of our agents and of the removable aliens we are encountering. ICE will exercise its law enforcement authority in a manner that accounts for the dangers presented by COVID-19, while maintaining the safety and security of the communities it has sworn to protect.”
The Trump administration is expected to announced stricter controls on immigration sometime this week, in response to concerns that the coronavirus could spread across the country’s northern and southern borders.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that, in cooperation with the Canadian government, immigration across the U.S.’s northern border would be completely locked down, except to lawful U.S. residents. Sources close to the Trump Administration said Wednesday that strict measures are planned for the U.S.-Mexico border, as well, including a possible change to the United States Customs and Border Protection operations that would see agents intercept and turn back individuals crossing the border illegally between official ports of entry, even if they request asylum.
Such measures would help border patrol officials avoid packing detention facilities on either side of the border — a situation which could prove dangerous to both immigrants and border patrol officers, given that all immigration and asylum hearings are postponed until at least April 30th.
Fox News reports that no detainees have tested positive for coronavirus.