The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said Wednesday that the 11 million immigrants who live in the United States illegally, and who suffered the “indiscriminate policies” of former President Donald Trump, should no longer be afraid because his department only focuses on arresting criminals.
“We are not going to go after citizens who have contributed to our communities for years and years,” Mayorkas said during a virtual White House conference with Hispanic media journalists.
Mayorkas pointed out that under the government of President Joe Biden, which turns one year old on Thursday, only migrants who represent a risk to public safety, national security or border security will be detained.
“For the first time, our regulations say that the unlawful presence of non-US citizens will not, by itself, be the reason for that person’s detention,” Mayorkas said.
The US official, of Cuban origin, also said that reforming immigration laws to offer unauthorized migrants a path to US citizenship remains a priority for Biden.
“’He has continued in the fight for that legislative reform and continues in it,’ Mayorkas said. “We remain hopeful and continue to fight for the legislative action this country needs to finally fix a broken (immigration law) system.”
Biden introduced an immigration reform plan that offered an eight-year path to citizenship on his first day in the White House, but it was never voted on by Congress. Since then, other efforts have failed, largely due to other economic priorities and Republican members of Congress who say they oppose compensating migrants who broke the law by crossing the border illegally.
Currently there are elements of immigration relief contained in another legislative proposal that is stalled in the Senate.
Separately, Mayorkas also said Wednesday that his administration is working to protect an immigration relief program that takes in young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. The program stops their deportation and grants them temporary work permits. Trump ended the program, known as DACA, in 2017. After several court battles, young people who were protected by the program can renew their membership in it, but applications to the program are no longer accepted for the first time.
Mayorkas said Wednesday that his department is working on “regulations” to be announced in the coming months to address the legal hurdles facing DACA.
“We strongly believe in the program,” said Mayorkas. “And we believe that through regulation we can protect and institutionalize the reforms that we have designed for the protection of dreamers,” said the official in reference to these young people.
Mayorkas had to answer questions about a policy that was initiated by Trump and that prevents migrants seeking asylum from entering the United States. The policy, known as Title 42, prevents that entry, arguing that it is necessary to stop the entry of people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Biden has maintained that policy, which has earned him criticism from groups that fight for the defense of immigrants.
“I think you correctly identify the disappointment of the Latino community due to the continued implementation of Title 42,” admitted Mayorkas. “But this is something that we have talked about repeatedly, and that is that Title 42 is not an immigration policy. It’s a public health rule.”