Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a new policy Thursday directing agents not to ‘unnecessarily’ separate parents from their children or guardians from adults with disabilities when dealing with immigrant detainees.

Key Facts

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Enforcement agents in ICE are required to ‘affirmatively inquire’ about the parent or guardian status of a minor or incapacitated adult, and record it on the database, according to the new ICE directive on “parents interests” issued by acting director Tae D. Johnson.

The policy said agents must refrain from deporting a parent without making arrangements for a guardian to take custody of the minor, and in cases where that’s not possible or if there are concerns of abuse, a local law enforcement agency would be asked to take custody.

ICE personnel should ensure parents or legal guardians of children can participate in person or remotely in child welfare proceedings – in 2018 the White House was criticized for having immigrant children as young as 3 appearing alone for their own proceedings.

A new mechanism will be created to allow deported parents or legal guardians to temporarily return to the US for the child’s hearing.

The guidelines mark an attempt by President Joe Biden’s administration to move away from the ‘zero tolerance’ policy under former President Donald Trump that divided hundreds of families, with 180 children separated under the policy yet to be reunited with their parents.

Big Number

5,636. That's the number of families who experienced separations from July 2017 to January 2021, as reported by the Family Reunification Task Force.

Key Background

A report from the Department of Homeland Security said that more than 3,900 children were separated from their families under Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings. The Biden administration had previously published in September 2021, new rules on immigrants, directing US officials to detain or deport only immigrants who posed a national security threat. However, a federal judge in Texas halted Biden's rules, following a challenge by Republican states, and deemed the directive unlawful,