America in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic is by no means normal. The “present normal” for many Americans is reflected in temporary work-from-home schedules, closed schools, bare grocery shelves and deferred vacation and business travel. While hand washing and a reduced reliance on foreign pharmaceuticals will certainly benefit the country in the long-term, there are short-term changes that cannot become the new normal, particularly a scaling back of immigration enforcement activities.
Over the last week, immigration agencies have adjusted to the pandemic in many ways from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announcing the temporary closure of offices through March, to President Trump announcing plans to invoke a federal statute that allows the surgeon general to block certain people or goods from certain countries in order to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. The biggest refocusing of priorities occurred on Wednesday when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a temporary adjustment of its enforcement posture to ensure the safety of ICE agents and the general public.
According to ICE guidance issued on March 18, agents will concentrate on apprehending “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds,” while Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”
One primary reason for ICE’s temporary change in operational approach stems from the awareness of the added danger posed by the coronavirus to agents in the field According to documents reviewed by Politico, at least 500 Homeland Security employees are under quarantine with at least 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
But that has not prevented from ICE conducting operations in several cities, including Denver and Los Angeles. According the Los Angeles Times, agents donned protective gear during a recent arrest of an illegal alien who had a 2015 conviction for DUI causing bodily injury and hit and run. While immigrant activists have called for a halt to all operations, ICE officials maintain that the COVID-19 virus is just one of the current threats to public safety.
David Marin, the director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re out here trying to protect the public by getting these criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities. Asking us to stop doing that basically gives those criminals another opportunity to maybe commit more crimes, to create more victims.”
Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli added a clarification of the March 18 guidance in response, he said, to media misreports.
“The health and safety of Americans is paramount. Thus, @ICEgov will, as it has during other times of crisis, conduct enforcement operations that protect our communities and uphold our laws,” he said in a Twitter thread, adding that the shift in focus “does not mean that no other removable aliens will in fact be removed, but during the current public health situation, removals will be done in such a way as to minimize the exposure of our agents and of the removable aliens we are encountering.”
While the COVID-19 epidemic has caused law enforcement on all levels to prioritize who they arrest and detain, immigrant activists are trying to use the current crisis to get what they have always wanted – no immigration enforcement.
“ICE must end ALL enforcement activities. Time and again we have seen ICE use the dehumanizing label of “criminal” to justify their actions. We are in the middle of a pandemic and ICE continues to be a public health threat,” tweeted the Immigrant Justice Network. The call echoes demands made by other advocates, who see a global pandemic as an open door to open the borders.
The fact is that this “present normal” requires all Americans and government to act with an abundance of caution, not to throw caution to the wind by letting criminal illegal aliens continue to prey on vulnerable communities.