The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new directive on immigration parent deportations on Friday. The deportation policy is aimed at safeguarding parents and ensuring that they are not separated from their children.
The memo formalizes the special recognition for parents picked up by ICE agents.
“ICE personnel should ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt the parental rights of both alien parents or legal guardians of minor children,” the directive states.
Under the new policy, ICE agents are free to consider the background of the immigrant they are taking into custody and use their own discretion in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. The policy change also allows officers to consider alternatives to detention and urges them to act early in enforcement cases.
“While the FODs may exercise prosecutorial discretion at any stage of an enforcement proceeding, it is generally preferably to exercise such discretion as early in the case of proceeding as possible,” the nine-page memo says.
The directive also creates a new position in charge of overseeing the rights of parents.
National Immigration Law Center Executive Director Marielena Hincapié called the new policy a welcome and necessary change.
“Our immigration system has the potential to inflict terrible damage on our most vulnerable citizens: children. This new directive is a necessary step toward protecting family unity, and we welcome ICE’s efforts to ensure that parents are not torn away from their children during – and after – deportation proceedings,” she said in a statement.
The policy change under the Obama administration comes on the heels of a controversial deportation case out of Ohio. Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez faced deportation despite the fact he was the main caretaker of his son Juan who has cerebral palsy. Hernandez-Ramirez got a last-minute one-year stay the night before he was scheduled to be deported.
While Marielena was happy to see a shift to a more humane immigration policy, she said that the policy will not prevent family separation completely or change the lives of children who have already had family members deported.
“This new directive, however, simply addresses the symptoms of what we all know to be a deeply broken immigration system. Today, thousands of children are growing up with the psychological trauma of having lost a parent to deportation,” she said. “This new directive should underscore the need for all those in Washington to move quickly to create an immigration system that upholds our most dearly-held family values.”