The Biden administration this week announced a 100-day pause on deportations of most people living in the country illegally along with a new priority system for those who will still be subject to removal.
The Department of Homeland Security released a memo outlining the categories of immigration offenders who will continue to be subject to arrest and eventual removal.
Those priorities include migrants at the border who arrived after Nov. 1, 2020, according to the memo. Immigrants already in the U.S. who pose a national security or public safety risk including anyone convicted of an "aggravated felony" are also a top priority under the new department-wide guidance.
The memo makes clear that Homeland Security will not be issuing a full stop on arrests and removals. But it requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report on its implementation of the new priorities and it will require the ICE director to review arrests of anyone not already in jail.
"… nothing in this memorandum prohibits the apprehension or detention of individuals unlawfully in the United States who are not identified as priorities," the DHS memo reads.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton launched a lawsuit Friday against the deportation pause. The state AG office called it a violation of the Constitution.
"Our state defends the largest section of the southern border in the nation. Failure to properly enforce the law will directly and immediately endanger our citizens and law enforcement personnel," Paxton said in a statement. "I am confident that these unlawful and perilous actions cannot stand."
The Biden administration memo enacting the moratorium cites the ongoing global pandemic and "significant operational challenges" as the rationale behind a renewed focus on the southern border while shifting enforcement priorities away from major cities.
Customs and Border Protection has seen a surge of border crossing attempts in recent months. Immigration authorities have stopped more than 70,000 unauthorized migrants in each of the last three months. Those are higher monthly totals than previously recorded over the same time in at least the past six years, according to the latest CBP data.
"In light of those unique circumstances, the Department must surge resources to the border in order to ensure safe, legal and orderly processing," according to the memo.
Homeland Security also announced this week it will suspend a policy rolled out by the Trump administration that forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they waited for their day in immigration court. The "Migrant Protection Protocols" also known as the "remain in Mexico" policy resulted in the ballooning of makeshift refugee camps in northern Mexican border towns.
Human rights observers have documented the dangers facing children and families subjected to the policy.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch concluded the program should be dismantled. The report's authors spoke to children and adults who described being sexual assaulted, abducted for ransom, extorted and robbed at gunpoint while enrolled in the program.
The statement goes on to urge people subjected to the program to "remain where they are" and notes that those who are outside of the United States will not qualify for the legal path to citizenship outlined in the immigration proposal President Biden delivered to Congress Friday.
The announcements on enforcement changes came as President Biden also put forward his legislative immigration proposal which provides a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
After passing background checks, immigrants already in the U.S. can pursue a new kind of temporary legal status that lasts for six years. Spouses and children of applicants, even those abroad, will also be eligible. They will be able to apply for permanent resident "green cards" five years into holding temporary status and can apply to become naturalized three years after that.
Immigrants will be able to work, travel and join the military during their temporary legal authorization period. TPS holders, farm workers and DREAMers will be able to apply for "green cards" immediately without the five-year waiting period.
At least nine republicans will be required to join Democrats to reach the 60 vote threshhold needed to pass the bill.
"It makes a difference when you have leadership in the White House who will put political capital on the table to try to make things happen," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N,J., the lead sponsor in the Senate.
The proposal includes investment in security technology at the border, Menendez said Thursday. It will also increase staffing at immigration courts while mandating legal counsel for children and certain "vulnerable" migrants.
In a significant symbolic move, the bill also removes the word "alien" from federal immigration law and replaces it with "noncitizen."