Mayorkas Says It Makes Little Sense for U.S. to Pursue All Illegal Migrants in Country

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that it makes little sense to pursue all of the 11 million illegal migrants estimated to be in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

Mayorkas' comments come as the Biden administration unveiled new plans on Thursday to only have authorities pursue migrants that recently crossed into the U.S. or those who could be a threat to public safety.

The new rules mark a shift from the aggressive policies in former President Donald Trump's administration, which instructed authorities to apprehend anyone who had entered the U.S. illegally, the AP reported. Mayorkas said that even if U.S. authorities had the bandwidth to pursue every illegal resident, they shouldn't attempt it since many of them "have been contributing members of our communities for years."

"They contribute to the well-being of our country and justice requires that we exercise our discretion accordingly," he said. "The fact that an individual is a removable non-citizen should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

DHS Secretary Mayorkas
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that it makes little sense to pursue all of the 11 million illegal migrants estimated to be in the U.S. Mayorkas speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Washington. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

The release of new rules comes as President Joe Biden has come under fire from allies for his reliance on a Trump-era public health authority to rapidly expel migrants encountered on the U.S.-Mexico border while also facing Republican criticism that he hasn't done enough to counter a sharp increase in migrants seeking to enter the country. His administration has expelled about 5,000 Haitians who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at Del Rio, Texas, in recent weeks.

Authorities will be directed to focus on noncitizens who have crossed recently, defined as after Nov. 1, 2020, or who determined to be a threat because of "serious criminal activity." Homeland Security includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol.

Unlike the interim rules, the criminal activity is not limited to the category known in legal terms as an aggravated felony but will depend on the "totality of the facts and circumstances," Mayorkas said. The new rules take effect Nov. 29.

Immigration authorities would be prohibited from arresting and seeking to deport someone in retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights, such as joining a protest or taking part in union activities.

"We are requiring and frankly empowering our workforce, critically empowering our workforce, to exercise their judgment, their law enforcement judgment," the secretary said.

Advocates for strict immigration enforcement have criticized the interim guidelines, which were similar in intent as the newly released rules, because they were seen as a top-down approach and one that precluded low-level arrests that might yield investigative leads into bigger cases or help serve as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

Trump's administration took hundreds of measures to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including a zero-tolerance policy on border crossings that resulted in the forcible separation of thousands of families and requiring asylum seekers to await the processing of their cases in Mexico.

In the end, total deportations were higher under the first term of President Barack Obama, who enacted enforcement priorities similar to Biden's, than under Trump. That was due in part to a lack of cooperation from many cities and states whose leaders opposed Trump's immigration policies.

Biden Administration Adjusts Migrant Policies
The Biden administration unveiled new plans on Thursday to only have authorities pursue illegal migrants that recently crossed into the U.S. or those who could be a threat to public safety. Haitian migrants use a dam to cross into the United States from Mexico in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 18, 2021. Eric Gay/AP Photo