In March, ICE arrested 2,214 undocumented immigrants, down from 6,679 in December, Trump’s last full month in office.
The guidelines appeared intended to restrain an agency emboldened under the last administration, establishing strict parameters for ICE officers, particularly in the event that an undocumented immigrant is encountered who’s not being targeted.
“If everyone’s priority, then no one’s a priority, so we do need to make some choices about where to focus our resources,” the ICE official said, pointing to the limits on those resources.
The ICE official said the changes have boiled down to “a lot more arrests of serious criminals than grandmas” and other so-called collateral arrests — immigrants encountered by authorities who aren’t the target of the arrest.
ICE acting Director Tae Johnson, when rolling out the new guidelines earlier this year, said doing so would help “better coordinate our efforts, achieve consistency in our operations and inform the development of the secretary’s new enforcement guidelines.”
The change in policy has met mixed reviews from the workforce, the ICE official said.
“There are of course, officers who are not as fond of this approach as others are. And others are very appreciative of the change and are implementing it enthusiastically,” the ICE official said.
Succeeding with the new approach, the ICE official said, will take communication from the top to the field, repetition and a change in tone and messaging — something the agency is working on “every day.”
Deportations have also dropped under the Biden administration. Last month, the agency deported 2,886 people, down from 5,838 in December and 10,353 last October.
On Inauguration Day, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would pause deportations for 100 days, with some exceptions, but a federal judge in Texas blocked the moratorium, delivering a blow to one of Biden’s first immigration actions.
The administration argued that the pause would allow DHS time to review the agency’s policies. Meanwhile, the agency’s enforcement priorities remained in place and arrests and deportations slowed significantly.
The ICE official said Tuesday that there was a “lack of focus” at ICE during the Trump administration, adding that there are downsides to public safety when law enforcement agencies don’t have a clear focus and allocation of resources.
“What we are trying to accomplish is, focus ICE’s resources on items that are really truly public safety threats, national security threats and that help reinforce, help establish a strong border security,” the ICE official said.
DHS is expected to issue department-wide guidance on enforcement and removals later this year. As part of that process, ICE is working with its agents in the field and state and local partners to assess the current interim guidance, the ICE official said.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Maria Santana contributed to this report.