The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday announced it is scrapping fines for illegal immigrants who refuse to leave the U.S. as ordered, claiming they are ineffective and unnecessary.
DHS is rescinding two delegation orders, which gave Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the power to collect fines from immigrants who do not follow orders of deportation. In a statement, the agency also said ICE is working with the Treasury to cancel existing debts already owed.
“There is no indication that these penalties promoted compliance with noncitizens’ departure obligations,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “We can enforce our immigration laws without resorting to ineffective and unnecessary punitive measures.”
ICE has had the ability to impose fines for more than 20 years but only began enforcing them in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. The administration started sending out fines of hundreds of dollars a day for those who had failed to leave the country. The policy made headlines with instances where illegal immigrants were slapped with fines up to $500,000.
But the Biden administration, which has shown little interest in encouraging most illegal immigrants to leave the country, stopped issuing the fines on Inauguration Day and the move Friday formalizes what DHS describes as a “change in direction.”
The Biden administration, after initially seeking to impose a 100-day moratorium on deportations before being blocked by a Texas lawsuit, has significantly narrowed ICE’s enforcement priorities.
Under the new guidance, ICE would focus on three categories of immigrants: those who pose a threat to national security; those who have crossed the border since Nov. 1, and those who committed “aggravated felonies.”
The guidance is temporary, lasting three months until the Department of Homeland Security can issue further guidance. Officials said the guidance does not explicitly prevent anyone from being arrested or deported. However, field officers seeking to arrest someone outside of those three categories would need approval from their chain of command.
Since President Biden took office, the number of ICE arrests has plummeted, declining by 65% in March compared with at the end of the Trump administration.