New Report Examines Biden’s Approach to Immigration Enforcement

May 20, 2021

WASHINGTON—A new report, “Tracking the Biden Agenda on Immigration Enforcement,” released today by the American Immigration Council examines the Biden administration’s approach to the U.S. system of immigration enforcement during its first 100 days in office.

The report analyzes the most significant changes to interior enforcement in the Trump era, the Biden administration’s commitments and accomplishments in restructuring immigration enforcement, and makes recommendations on how to create meaningful and lasting reforms.

President Biden assumed office with commitments to end indiscriminate enforcement efforts and create a more humane system of immigration enforcement. His administration has made progress in signaling a shift in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s focus and beginning to implement policy changes with a direct impact on enforcement trends. However, a great deal of work remains to minimize the impact of ICE enforcement on immigrant communities across the United States, and to rein in an agency with a history of abusing its authority and pushing back against attempts at reform.

The report draws on government data and public reporting to assess the changes to interior immigration enforcement implemented by the Biden administration, both through direct policy changes and litigation.

The main recommendations of the report to the Biden administration include:

  • Implementing affirmative prosecutorial discretion guidelines to shield vulnerable individuals from enforcement action.
  • Rescinding the Trump-era expansion of expedited removal.
  • Restoring the use of administrative closure across the immigration court system.
  • Aggressively reduce the use of detention, beginning by lowering the average daily population in ICE detention by at least 75%, terminating all existing contracts with private prison companies and state and county jails, and placing a moratorium on the implementation of future contracts with the goal of phasing out immigration detention entirely.
  • Committing to a policy of affirmative file review of people held in detention to identify cases that fall outside of priorities and those of individuals at heightened risk of serious illness.
  • Adopting a presumption of release for those held in detention and a policy requiring release on the least restrictive methods.
  • Taking steps to rebuild trust with sanctuary communities around the country—such as halting the issuance of detainers and ending all 287(g) agreements— and roll back all of President Trump’s attacks on sanctuary cities.
  • Permanently banning immigration enforcement in sensitive locations such as courthouses.
  • Fully rescinding the Secure Communities program and prevent future administrations from restoring it.
  • Significantly reducing funding for ICE enforcement and immigration detention.
  • Investing in community-based alternatives to detention and providing individuals navigating the removal process with appointed counsel.

“President Biden inherited a politicized immigration enforcement system that has for years been focused on enforcing immigration law by dragnet and creating harsh consequences for immigrants in the United States. He made significant commitments on the campaign trail to create meaningful reforms, and his administration has worked to signal a new path forward and has begun to reverse some negative enforcement trends. But considerable work remains to be done. True and sustainable progress will not begin until we significantly reduce the number of people locked in detention centers, implement true prosecutorial discretion guidelines to preserve family unity and protect long-term residents and vulnerable populations, and ensure that ICE personnel meaningfully implement the administration’s directives,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council.

“The Biden administration came into office and inherited an immigration system on the brink of disaster, with dozens of fires to put out. The immigration court system is nearly broken under the weight of 1.3 million pending cases and ICE officers are still newly empowered to carry out expedited removal processes against any undocumented immigrant who’s been in the country for less than two years. In order to begin addressing the harm done by the previous administration, Secretary Mayorkas should rescind the expansion of expedited removal and join with Attorney General Garland to resolve thousands of low-priority cases in the immigration court backlogs,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.

“On the campaign trail President Biden promised to end private immigration detention and bring humanity to the immigration system. But ICE’s own data reveals the administration's dangerous movement in the opposite direction, toward detaining more people. These numbers represent more families separated, more asylum seekers retraumatized by incarceration, and more injustice. A course correction is urgently needed,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.


For more information, contact:

 Maria Frausto at the American Immigration Council, [email protected] or 202-507-7526.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
[email protected]

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