San Jose advocates say new federal immigration guidance falls short
Services, Immigrant Rights And Education Network members marching in Washington D.C. in September. Photo courtesy of SIREN.

President Joe Biden’s administration recently unveiled new immigration guidelines—and reactions are mixed in San Jose.

While some local advocates say the guidance is lacking, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, is applauding the new policy.

“(It is) an important step in the right direction, particularly after the prior administration undermined the rule of law and considered every immigrant an enforcement priority,” the congresswoman told San José Spotlight. “The updated guidance appears to strike the appropriate balance between prioritizing public safety and recognizing the importance of prosecutorial discretion in our immigration system.”

The San Jose Democrat said she is hopeful the new policies will be applied in a manner “consistent with the intent.”

The new guidelines state that officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should not target individuals for arrest or removal solely because they are undocumented. ICE agents are instead directed to focus on undocumented persons considered a serious threat to public safety or national security.

“We need to exercise our discretion and determine whom to prioritize for immigration enforcement action,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo. “We are guided by the fact that the majority of undocumented noncitizens who could be subject to removal have been contributing members of our communities for years.”

In San Jose, which has one of the largest undocumented populations in the nation, some immigration advocates say the new guidance is lacking. At a downtown rally earlier this year, activists called for the roughly 11 million undocumented residents in the U.S. to receive immediate legal status.

Jose Servin, spokesperson for the Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), told San José Spotlight he expects more from the Biden administration.

“In terms of the positive, it does give ICE agents the ability to not pursue a case,” Servin said. “But they can use that same discretion to deport whoever they want.”

Servin added that it’s “a little outrageous” to see the memo included language about undocumented immigrants being a threat to public safety or national security.

“When Biden came into office we all had a lot of cautious optimism, but really we are just seeing a lot of the same,” he said.

Chava Bustmante is viewing the new rules with wary enthusiasm. Bustmante is the former executive director of Latinos United for a New America, a local nonprofit that works to support Latino communities.

“This is something that we have been pushing for all along,” he said. “But I don’t trust what the government just says. We have to wait and see if the number of deportations really go down.”

While some immigration advocates think the new rules aren’t enough to protect undocumented residents, Republican lawmakers and former ICE officials are decrying the policy as being too soft on illegal immigration.

Jon Feere, a former ICE chief of staff, recently slammed the guidelines on social media.

“Violating America’s immigration laws (under the new rules) is not a reason to hold someone accountable for violating America’s immigration laws,” he wrote on Twitter. “The Biden administration’s new ICE guidelines sit somewhere between lunacy and anarchy.”

A poll from the Pew Research Center found the majority of Americans—68%—are concerned with the nation’s handling of immigration.

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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