SEARAC Responds to New DHS Guidelines on Immigration Enforcement

For Immediate Release:
October 5, 2021

Media contact:
Elaine Sanchez Wilson
Director of Communications and Development


Washington, DC – Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released new guidelines for immigration enforcement, replacing the previous guidance from January and February of this year. Rather than shifting the framework of the previous guidance to presume relief for removable individuals, minimize deportations, and change the long-toxic culture within DHS, the guidance continues to emphasize a harmful approach based on the criminalization of noncitizens.
Despite its many shortcomings, the guidance includes some welcome changes to how it instructs DHS personnel to handle noncitizens with an order of removal based on a prior conviction, including more than 15,000 Southeast Asian refugees. It also removes the usage of gang affiliation as a criterion for enforcement, a change for which SEARAC has long advocated. These policy shifts are a testament to the organizing of Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs) and other advocates over two decades to end the deporations of individuals with a prior conviction.
While the guidance provides new tools to combat unjust interior enforcement activity, it falls short of reigning in an agency that continues to target and inflict harm on communities of color. The memo continues to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents dangerously broad discretion in whom they choose to remove. Notably, the guidelines indiscriminately designate anyone unlawfully crossing into the United States as a border safety threat without regard for asylum seekers, which is particularly concerning given the news of how Haitian asylum seekers continue to be harmed by CBP agents.
“Our communities have fought for over two decades to have their humanity recognized through their efforts to end the deportations of Southeast Asian refugees. It is a testament to that work and the work of our partners that this guidance includes policy shifts that do not assume Southeast Asian refugees with a prior conviction are automatically prioritized for removal,” said Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of SEARAC. “However, despite these small steps forward, this new guidance still provides too much power and authority to ICE and CBP agents, leaves room for the deportation of our communities, and further moves us away from our obligation to protect asylum seekers. SEARAC remains committed to working with our partners to end the deportations of all Southeast Asian refugees and respect the rights of asylum seekers to seek refuge in the United States.”
This new guidance will go into effect on Nov. 29. The memo also includes language directing the agency to train DHS staff on implementation of the guidance and for sub-agencies to create processes to collect “detailed, precise, and comprehensive data as to every aspect of the enforcement actions.” Additionally, the memo states that the agency will create a case review process for individuals and their attorneys to seek review of enforcement actions taken against them by DHS staff.