Federal immigration authorities have been advised to consider familial connections when they detain undocumented immigrant parents, according to an Obama administration directive released on Friday. While the document does not prevent the deportation of undocumented parents or high-priority criminal immigrants, it does allow detained individuals to make caregiver decisions for their children. This is a big step in helping keep families together instead of splitting them apart.
The directive specifically advises immigration agents to exercise prosecutorial discretion as early as possible during an immigrant’s detention, including finding out whether detained individuals are primary caretakers. It allows for the creation of a “field point of contact” in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents receive and address inquiries from both detained parents and their families. Agents are also guided to place detained parents in facilities that are within the “area of responsibility,” or somewhere closer to their children. It is clear from this directive that the care taking of U.S. citizen children remains a stronger priority than deporting the parents of U.S. citizen children who are not here legally.
A similar provision was included in the immigration bill that passed the Senate in May. That amendment, which was approved unanimously in committee, would provide detained parents the opportunity to figure out caretaker options for their children.
Obama’s directive drew sharp criticism from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who slammed the administration’s decision to broaden its scope of prosecutorial discretion. “President Obama has once again abused his authority and unilaterally refused to enforce our current immigration laws by directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to stop removing broad categories of unlawful immigrants,” he said in a statement.
The Obama administration received similar criticism when it circulated a 2011 memo advising federal immigration law enforcement officials to prioritize criminal immigrants for deportation proceedings. Still, in the months that followed, the government deported numerous low-priority undocumented parents. Even despite the 2011 memo, between 2010 to 2012, a record-breaking 205,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported.
Friday’s directive, however, could help the thousands of children of undocumented immigrants who are in adult detention facilities while their parents undergo deportation proceedings.