Biden Designates ‘Protected Areas’ Off Limits to Immigration Enforcement

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Immigration rights protest, Washington DC 2016. Photo by Susan Melkisethian via Flickr.

The Joe Biden administration has designated schools, hospitals, parades and places of worship on a list of  “protected areas” that are off-limits to immigration arrests, searches, subpoenas or other types of enforcement, reports the New York Times.

In addition to schools, university campuses, and hospitals, the newly designated off-limit areas include clinics and other medical facilities, in addition to COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, places of worship, and sites where children gather, such as playgrounds, daycare centers and foster care facilities.

Other protected sites include shelters for victims of domestic violence and homeless people, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, food pantries and sites offering help to those fleeing natural disasters. Immigration enforcement action is also to be avoided at or near funerals, parades and demonstrations.

The policy applies to field agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, who have been ordered to refrain from enforcement action in the types of locations on the list “at all times” and “to the fullest extent possible.”

Any exceptions must be approved by agency headquarters. While the latest steps are likely to win praise from immigrant advocates, it is unclear whether rank-and-file ICE officers, many of whom favored the previous immigration crackdown imposed by the Trump administration, will comply.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said that implementation would be achieved through training, management and supervision of the agents.

The decision amounts to a sharp reversal of federal policy during the Trump era, which penalized cities for refusing to turn over undocumented immigrants charged with crimes to immigration authorities, and for establishing no-go “sanctuary” areas off-limits to federal agents.  Six months before the 2020 federal election, an appeals court upheld decisions by the Justice Department to withhold federal grant monies from jurisdictions that supported sanctuaries.

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