Homeland Security Department issues new guidelines limiting which illegal migrants can be detained

"Are we going to spend the time apprehending and removing the farmworker who is breaking his or her back to pick fruit that we all put on our tables?" asked DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Updated: September 30, 2021 - 5:13pm

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has issued far-reaching new directives to immigration officers saying that an illegal immigrant's legal status "should not alone be the basis" of a decision to deport them from the U.S.

According to Mayorkas, the Biden administration is focused on prioritizing the arrest and deportation of illegal immigrants who pose a threat to national security, and those who recently crossed a border illegally to enter the U.S.

Farmworkers, says Mayorkas, should not be the top priority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, nor should the elderly.

During the Trump administration, ICE officers were permitted to arrest any individual in the United States illegally. The new rules also prevent immigration officers from detaining illegal migrants who fall upon the radar of the agency because they spoke out against "unscrupulous" landlords or employers, or were noticed while at public demonstrations.

"The overriding question is whether the noncitizen poses a current threat to public safety," wrote the secretary in a memo that was disseminated Thursday. 

"Are we going to spend the time apprehending and removing the farmworker who is breaking his or her back to pick fruit that we all put on our tables?" Mayorkas asked. "Because if we pursue that individual, we will not be spending those same resources on somebody who does, in fact, threaten our safety. And that is what this is about." 

The administration is fighting for a legislative path to citizenship for roughly 11 million illegal migrants now in the country, many of whom have lived here for years.

But talks with Republicans continue to lead nowhere, and the Senate parliamentarian has  denied Democrats' attempts to include significant pieces of immigration reform in the massive $3.5 trillion budget package that they plan on passing via reconciliation.