IDP Statement: DHS’s Deportation Memo Reinforces Flawed Policies of the Past

September 30, 2021

New York, NY — Today, the Department of Homeland Security released a new deportation memo that continues to reinforce the role of policing and incarceration as a feeder into the deportation system. The memo responds to substantial advocacy by acknowledging the harms of taking a one-dimensional approach to immigration policing, and its deportation categories appear less rigid than in previous memos. However, it also continues to center false narratives of “safety” and national and border “security.” This leaves intact the harmful and racist ideology that fuels exclusion and mass punishment. 

Furthermore, the new deportation memo places even more “discretion” in the hands of the very ICE agents whose job is, in fact, to deport people. Historically, ICE and CBP officers have used this “discretion” to maximize arresting, detaining and deporting people, and have rarely used it  to let community members live their lives in freedom. Whether this memo could compel ICE to use its discretion positively and substantially decrease deportation will remain a focus of advocacy and organizing. 

Immigrant Defense Project released the following statement:

If we are to move towards a more humane immigration system, we must start asking different questions than those raised by this memo. The question is not which members of our communities should be targeted for exclusion, immigration arrests, abusive detention, and banishment from the United States. Rather, we need to ask why the federal government is investing so heavily in carrying out detentions and deportations in the first place, and what steps will effectively start dismantling the deportation machine. 

Communities across the country will continue organizing to fight back against ICE arrests and deportations and to dismantle the deportation machine—at the border and throughout the criminal legal system.

Attempts to demonize immigrants have a long, troubled history in the United States. The passage of harsh laws in 1996—one of which was signed 25 years ago today—vastly expanded the role of the criminal legal system in making it as easy as possible for the government to exclude, imprison and expel people. The founding of DHS in 2002 turbocharged the power of these laws and the immigrant policing apparatus at an unprecedented rate, setting the stage for increasing deportations under administrations of both parties. Changes to immigration laws in the 1990s severely limited the role of judges in the immigration system, rather handing over significant discretion to ICE.