CASA Deeply Disappointed in Latest Immigration Enforcement Priorities
Despite some improvements, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) missed an opportunity to transform immigration enforcement, instead repeating many mistakes of the past
September 30, 2021
Washington, DC — CASA’s Legal Director Nick Katz issued the following response after the Biden administration announced its updated immigration enforcement priorities:
“While we welcome some of the improvements made in this updated enforcement guidance – including the directive not to target someone simply for being undocumented and the specific mandate to protect immigrants from retaliation by employers, landlords and other unscrupulous actors – we are deeply disturbed that DHS did not take this opportunity to engage in a broad rethinking of immigration enforcement that focuses on immigrants as people, not as priorities for deportation. Despite the encouraging language mandating that DHS consider the totality of the circumstances in every case, by maintaining categories that label someone as a ‘priority’ based on an arbitrary date of entry to the country, or an interaction with our deeply flawed criminal legal system, DHS has continued down the same failed path it has walked for the past two decades. We need dramatic, bold, transformational change – not more of the same. This guidance will ensure that thousands of immigrants every year are funneled into an inhumane detention system that cages asylum seekers, while fighting for their lives in courts where the odds are stacked against them – if they ever even get to see an immigration judge at all.
As we have seen in recent days, our immigration enforcement machinery is especially damaging to Black immigrant communities, such as the thousands of Haitian migrants who have been kept in unsafe conditions, then cruelly returned to a country facing deep political and economic instability. Or immigrants from countries like Cameroon, who cannot safely return home due to ongoing civil war, yet who have not been afforded Temporary Protected Status (TPS). With the continued unlawful closure of the border under the pretext of Title 42, it makes no sense to prioritize someone for entering without authorization.
The onus is now on DHS to ensure that these updated priorities are applied in a way that does the most good for our communities as possible. We call on DHS to engage in an immediate review of all cases pending in immigration court, with a goal of offering prosecutorial discretion to the broadest array of people who merit it under the holistic, individualized review contemplated in the memo – evaluating not just their manner of entry or criminal history, but all of their equities. We call on ICE to utilize its authority, made crystal clear under this guidance, to exercise prosecutorial discretion at all stages of an individual’s case and to apply the guidance with the goal of dramatically reducing the number of individuals in immigration detention. And, most urgently, we call on Secretary Mayorkas and the senior leadership of DHS to ensure that the commitment to accountability in this guidance is realized by establishing meaningful systems of review and oversight that value the fundamental dignity of all people. Policy shifts under the Obama administration too often failed because DHS officers simply refused to implement them. This time, DHS must guarantee real accountability for agency staff and private contractors who fail to implement reforms or continue to engage in abusive practices including civil rights violations.”