WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirty-four members of Congress led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sent a letter to the Biden Administration urging them to reform their policies regarding immigration enforcement.
The full letter can be read here.
“We are in a moment of racial reckoning in this country, with communities across the country calling for an end to mass incarceration and racist policing. It is time to end the carceral approach to immigration, which relies on these same flawed systems. Instead, we urge the Biden Administration to pursue humane and just immigration policies that aim to end mass incarceration, criminalization and deportation of immigrants,” reads the letter.
The group noted three specific flaws with the interim memorandum issued in February. First, the memorandum identifies anyone who entered the country after November 20, 2020 as an enforcement priority. This arbitrary date puts an untold number of people fleeing imminent danger at risk.
Second, the current guidance instructs ICE officers that if they have a “good faith belief” that an immigrant has been convicted of an “aggravated felony” that the immigrant should be prioritized for removal. The category “aggravated felony” is notoriously overly broad, including offenses such as state drug misdemeanors. Also, leaving this determination to officers’ “good faith” discretion all but ensures that this rule will be applied unevenly.
Finally, the Biden Administration’s current guidance prioritizes an immigrant for deportation if they have been convicted of an offense in which an element was “active participation” in a gang or someone older than 16 who “intentionally participated” in a gang. Once again, leaving ICE to determine what qualifies as an “element” of an offense risks that this guidance could be applied overly broadly. Also problematic, the later part of this guidance does not appear to require that someone was actually charged or convicted, a “good faith belief” is enough.
The letter was signed by Reps. Barbara Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Adriano Espaillat, Ayanna Pressley, Juan Vargas, Cori Bush, Pramila Jayapal, David Trone, Grace F. Napolitano, Grace Meng, Diana DeGette, James P. McGovern, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D., Adam Smith, Earl Blumenauer, Mark Takano, Jan Schakowsky, Ritchie Torres, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Mark Pocan, Rashida Tlaib, Alan Lowenthal, Judy Chu, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Peter Welch, Nydia M. Velázquez, Yvette D. Clarke, Raúl Grijalva, Jason Crow, Sylvia R. Garcia, Danny K. Davis, and Carolyn B. Maloney.
“Immigrants seeking asylum are not criminals. They have always had the right—under domestic and international law—to legally seek aid and humanitarian relief at our borders. I’m proud to join my colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a letter requesting DHS to overturn the last administration’s dangerous agenda and pursue humane policies moving forward,” said Rep. Juan Vargas. “I am urging the new DHS secretary to take our concerns into consideration when updating DHS civil immigration enforcement guidelines and to do everything in his power to provide immigrants with adequate protections.”
“Our immigration system is broken and we must ensure humanity lies at the core of our efforts to address the crisis individuals and families at our border continue to face,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat. “We have made progress in these first few months of the Biden-Harris administration, but more is needed. I’m glad to join my colleagues in strongly urging new guidance to ensure adequate protection, due process and human rights for vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers who are counting on our nation the most at this critical time.”
“Asylum seekers and refugees have a legal right to seek protection in our country,” said Rep. Judy Chu. “Seeking asylum is legal immigration, and those who do are deserving of due process and certain protections under our laws. Guidelines that ignore these basic protections and legal rights are based on the lie that immigrants impose a security threat to the U.S. This unfounded and xenophobic view has long been used to justify anti-immigrant policies. Many studies on immigrant crime rates have proven that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens. Furthermore, our country has one of the best vetting systems in the world. We urge the Biden administration to adopt guidelines that reject racist views of asylees and refugees and instead aim to protect their rights as legal immigrants.”
“At a moment when we are seeing rampant human rights abuses accelerating across the globe, we have a duty to prioritize human rights in our own immigration system,” said Rep. Pocan. “Our immigration system should not be rooted in criminalizing refugees and immigrants. We should not be giving ICE power to dictate who is and who is not worthy of entering our country—period.”
“For too long, our unjust immigration and criminal legal systems have driven the mass incarceration crisis, separated families and harmed our communities for generations,” said Rep. Pressley. “The Biden Administration must meet this moment by pursuing policies to stop the criminalization of our immigrant neighbors and affirm the dignity and humanity of all people, regardless of immigration status.”