U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced recently that it will instruct agents to refrain from detaining and deporting immigrants who are in the country illegally and are victims of a crime.
Acting Director Tae Johnson said the updated policy is intended to encourage noncitizens to cooperate with and report crimes to law enforcement and assist in investigations.
“This policy update facilitates victim cooperation with law enforcement, enhances ICE’s criminal investigative efforts, and promotes trust in ICE agents and officers enforcing our laws. It is ICE’s commitment to assist victims of crime regardless of their immigration status,” Johnson said in a press release. “Through this approach, we minimize the fear of repercussions that enforcement decisions may have on the willingness and ability of noncitizen crime victims to contact law enforcement, participate in investigations and prosecutions, pursue justice and seek benefits.”
The policy directs ICE agents to use discretion in the cases of noncitizens who have been granted or are applying for an immigration benefit designed to protect victims of crimes like trafficking and domestic abuse. It also says that deportation officers should also consider not arresting or releasing noncitizens who have been victims of crime, even if they don’t have a pending immigration application. Except in “exceptional” cases, agents will need to get permission from top agency officials to apprehend crime victims or witnesses who are part of ongoing law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
As part of its “victim-centered approach,” ICE will also expand services and support to better assist noncitizen victims.
“This new policy is designed to improve victims’ ability to seek justice against perpetrators of crime, including in cases of human trafficking,” the press release continued.
ICE’s policy update comes after a memorandum released by the agency in July to review its procedures and policies.
Critics of the change argue that it could provide a way for more people to take advantage of the system and stay in the country illegally, avoiding deportation by saying they are witnesses or victims of a crime. They also expressed concerns that the policy would make it harder for agents to apprehend and deport immigrants with criminal histories.
According to Fox News, ICE made headlines just a day before the policy change for granting a temporary stay of deportation to an illegal immigrant who had a criminal record in New Jersey. Marvin Jerezano-Peña was arrested in 2015 for “robbery and simple assault” and again a year later for knowingly receiving stolen property. He also had previous arrests for drug possession. A judge ordered that the migrant be deported to Mexico in 2019, and appeal to that deportation order was unsuccessful prior to ICE’s intervention.