The White House on Friday ended the Trump-era policy of fining illegal immigrants who have failed to leave the United States, claiming there is no evidence they work.
Authorities with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded two orders, which were used during the Trump administration, on collecting financial penalties and issuing fines to illegal immigrants. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will also work with the Treasury Department to cancel the existing debts of illegal immigrants who had been fined.
“There is no indication that these penalties promoted compliance with noncitizens’ departure obligations,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Friday. “We can enforce our immigration laws without resorting to ineffective and unnecessary punitive measures.”
ICE stopped issuing the fines on Jan. 20, the first day President Joe Biden took office. Friday’s announcement from Mayorkas essentially formalizes the policy change.
Former President Donald Trump in 2018 used the Immigration and Nationality Act to issue fines after the federal government had not done so for decades. At one point, the administration was fining illegal immigrants up to $500 every day they remained in the United States after being told to depart. According to reports, some illegal immigrants had fines of up to $500,000.
During the start of his term in 2017, Trump signed an order that promised “as soon as practicable, and by no later than one year after the date of this order,” the federal government can collect “all fines and penalties that the Secretary is authorized under the law to assess and collect from aliens unlawfully present in the United States.”
But according to Friday’s release, DHS said it reviewed “detailed data regarding the issuance of such fines since 2018” and was “clear to Secretary Mayorkas and Acting [ICE] Director Tae Johnson that the fines were not effective and had not meaningfully advanced the interests of the agency.”
“ICE intends to work with the Department of Treasury to cancel the existing debts of those who had been fined,” said the news release. “The rescission marks ICE’s latest move toward focusing its limited resources on those posing the greatest risk to national security and public safety in accordance with the current guidance on civil immigration enforcement and removal priorities,” it added.
After Biden took office in January, his administration moved to rescind several Trump-era orders, including the “Remain in Mexico” policy and halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall—although the pause in wall construction is being reviewed by the Government Accountability Office as to whether it violated the Constitution’s provision that Congress has the power to allocate funds.
Republicans have pounced on Biden’s orders, saying the move—in combination with the administration’s messaging—has encouraged illegal immigrants and unaccompanied minors to stream across the border, where tens of thousands are being housed in makeshift Border Patrol and Health and Human Services facilities, military bases, and other emergency holding sites.