US law enforcement officials will ask, when detaining illegal immigrants in the country, whether they are parents or guardians to avoid separating families under a Biden administration policy released Thursday.
The directive, an effort by President Joe Biden to reverse former President Donald Trump’s more restrictive policies, also allows previously deported parents or guardians to return to the United States temporarily for child custody hearings.
New U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive replaces Trump-era guidance issued in 2017 that did not explicitly require officers to ask about or record the status of parents or guardianship.
A Democrat, Biden campaigned on the promise of building a more humane and orderly immigration system to counter that of Trump, his Republican predecessor.
When he took office early last year, Biden prioritized immigration enforcement against those convicted of the most serious crimes. As a result, arrests and deportations of immigrants living in the United States illegally plummeted compared to the previous year.
But federal courts in recent months have blocked Biden’s efforts to target serious criminals and Republicans have criticized the administration’s approach, saying fewer arrests and deportations have encouraged more illegal crossings.
In another departure from Trump administration policy, the new guidance applies to parents or guardians of disabled adults, as well as children.
Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said in a statement that officers will preserve the family unit “to the greatest extent possible.”
Some immigration activists said Thursday that the measures did not go far enough. Heidi Altman, policy director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which provides legal services to refugees and asylum seekers, called the memo “minimal.”
After taking office in January 2021, Biden implemented a series of measures to reverse what he called “mean and cruel” Trump policies that separated thousands of children and parents at the US-Mexico border.