AOC plus 35 lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to“End the carceral approach to immigration.” Photo:  BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI | Credit: AFP via Getty Images
AOC plus 35 lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to “End the carceral approach to immigration.” Photo: Brendan SmialowskiI/AFP via Getty Images

AOC takes lead in letter to Mayorkas, pushing to end ‘carceral’ immigration approach

The initiative by Reps. AOC, Pramila Jayapal, Chuy Garcia, Ayanna Pressley and more seeks to provide relief for the over-criminalization of immigrants. 


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Congress passed the American Dream and Promise act in March, a landmark legislation that would provide a legal path to permanent residency and citizenship for Dreamers, temporary protected status (TPS), and more.

But it fell short, as Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) noted after its passing, because it failed to fully address immigrant criminalization. 

H.R. 6, as it stands, includes a “secondary review process,” a provision that would take individuals who are otherwise ineligible for the Dream and Promise Act, and subject them to a second round of review based on arbitrary conditions. 

It gives the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to deny already-eligible individuals status by adding an additional layer of requirements that exclude anyone with a misdemeanor conviction, juvenile adjudication, or alleged gang membership without formal judicial action. 

At the time, Rep. Garcia spoke out to raise awareness of the implications that these criminal bars would have on certain demographics, saying that the bars must be taken into account with future legislation.

He is now joining Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who leads 34 of her Democratic colleagues, in sending a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Tae Johnson, in a push to change the immigration policies that rely on what they outline as a “discriminatory legal system.”

H.R.6 has yet to pass the Senate, and in the meantime measures like this can change the already-present immigration system. 

She is joined by Reps. Adriano Espaillat, Ayanna Pressley, Juan Vargas, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlalib, Nydia Velázquez, Yvette D. Clarke, Raúl Grijalva, Sylvia Garcia and more. 

Their joint letter to federal immigration officials demands an overhaul of immigration policies and objects to gang members in the country illegally being targeted for deportation.

“We need humane and just immigration policies that aim to end mass incarceration, criminalization and deportation of immigrants,” Rep. AOC wrote on Twitter while announcing the push with colleagues. 

The lawmakers reference an interim enforcement memo issued by ICE in Feb. 2018 that doesn’t adequately protect the liberty interests of asylum seekers.

The February memo issued by ICE outlines that officers have “Authorization to apprehend presumed priority noncitizens in at-large enforcement actions without advance approval.”

The memo further says that no authorization is needed to apprehend without prior approval during enforcement operations of current or qualifying members of criminal gangs and transnational criminal organizations. 

The letter argues that such “blanket statements” that align all those convicted of felonies to be border security enforcement priorities, effectively means detaining an untold number of people who have fled persecution.

Throughout the joint letter, there is also an emphasis on dated language when referring to immigrants, language they believe damaging to how immigrants are perceived by ICE officials, and subsequently treated. 

“The definition of ‘aggravated felonies’ is itself flawed — a  relic of the racist  War on Drugs — and should not guide the agency’s enforcement priorities. ‘Aggravated felonies,’ a  term specific to immigration law, include offenses that are neither ‘aggravated” nor ‘felonies’ — for example, this category has been interpreted to include many state drug misdemeanors,” the letter reads. 

The term “Aggravated felonies,” the letter argues, is a category designed to ensure that immigrants have fewer rights to fight detention and deportation should they be labeled by the term. 

AOC’s letter also raises the issue that ICE’s memorandum invites racial profiling by presuming that an immigrant is a public safety enforcement and removal priority. 

To end, the letter states it’s time to end the “carceral approach to immigration.”

Instead, it urges that the Biden administration must pursue human immigration policies that aim to end mass incarceration, criminalization, and deportation of immigrants.

This, as the Biden administration reports 20,000 immigrants currently jailed by ICE, a jump from just under 15,000 at the end of the Trump administration.


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