The Biden administration announced new “enforcement priorities” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on February 18. The priorities were an initial step away from the Trump administration’s enforcement strategy that made every undocumented immigrant a target for deportation. But issuing priorities is one thing; meaningful implementation is another.

With over 13,000 people in detention and 1.3 million cases in the immigration court backlogs, many immigrants’ cases will need to be reevaluated under the new priorities.

In an effort to ensure that the implementation of these priorities is running smoothly nationwide, the Biden administration rolled out a “case review” process on March 5. Individuals and attorneys can use this review process to identify cases that they believe are no longer priorities and therefore require action by ICE.

Under this new case review process, individuals who think they are no longer a priority for enforcement are strongly encouraged to first contact the local ICE field office and request a review. If the local field office determines that they no longer qualify as a priority, then ICE may exercise its discretion to take a favorable action in the person’s case. This could include releasing the person from detention or choosing not to execute a removal order.

If the local ICE office finds the person to still be a priority and declines a request for discretion, then the new case review process allows individuals and attorneys to submit a second request for review to ICE headquarters. These requests must be submitted in writing to a dedicated email address, and a “Senior Reviewing Official” will then evaluate the case and decide whether to override the local field office.

This headquarters-level policy is important because the actual decisions in individual cases are generally made at the local level. Creating a process to escalate cases to the national level allows the Biden administration to track how well the local field offices are following the new priorities.

But while the case review process is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough.

Thousands of individuals remain trapped in immigration detention today—the majority without attorneys and with limited access to the outside world. They are all are at heightened risk of COVID and need to get out of detention as quickly as possible.

Expecting people in this situation to have knowledge of the administration’s new priorities, understand how they apply to their individual cases, and be able to pursue relief from their local ICE field office and then from ICE headquarters is unrealistic.

That’s why the administration should implement an independent file review process for every person held in ICE detention.

Independent file review would put the burden on ICE to determine whether someone is still an enforcement priority, rather than on the person who is currently detained. A full review of everyone held in detention may take some time, but it would be an important tool to ensure that the new priorities are carried out across the board.

Even though more is needed, the new case review process shows how the Biden administration is putting its enforcement priorities into action and slowly making the immigration system more humane.


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