Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been ordered to implement “a 100-day pause on certain removals to enable focusing the Department’s resources where they are most needed,” starting no later than January 22, according to a memo from acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske sent out on Thursday.

“Due to limited resources, DHS cannot respond to all immigration violations or remove all persons unlawfully in the United States,” Pekoske told the acting department executives, adding that they “must implement civil immigration enforcement based on sensible priorities and changing circumstances.”

Pekoske actually cited the Covid-19 pandemic as “unique circumstances” facing the country, and said the DHS must “surge resources” to the border with Mexico to ensure “safe, legal and orderly processing” and “rebuild fair and effective asylum procedures that respect human rights and due process.”

The DHS and ICE will prioritize “threats to national security, public safety, and border security,” meaning individuals suspected of terrorism, convicted of “aggravated felony” and those who illegally crossed on or after November 1, 2020, Pekoske specified.  

The new guidance is in line with executive orders signed by the newly sworn-in President Joe Biden on Wednesday, ordering the DHS to change ICE enforcement “in line with our values and priorities.” 

Biden has already ordered the end to his predecessor Donald Trump’s emergency declaration that enabled the construction of a border wall with Mexico and repealed the policy of keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico until their claim can be processed.

Seeking to reverse Trump’s immigration policies, Biden has already lifted the travel ban on a dozen countries and reinforced the Obama-era program protecting children of illegal immigrants from deportation. He has also proposed a law that would give a path to citizenship to at least 11 million people currently in the US illegally.

Meanwhile, a “caravan” of several thousand people has departed Honduras and is making its way through Guatemala to Mexico, hoping to reach the US. Some of its members have told reporters they believe the new US president has promised to give them “a better life.” 

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