Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Friday called for the Biden administration to clarify the scope of its 100-day moratorium on deportations and other immigration enforcement measures, amid fears that the radical move would allow violent criminals to remain in the U.S.
“I am concerned that such directives will prevent the removal of illegal immigrants with existing removal orders, including those with serious criminal records and convicted of violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault and other aggravated felonies,” Rubio said in a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske.
“It is deeply troubling that one of the first actions taken by the Biden administration could undermine the safety and security of all Americans, including immigrants,” he said.
President Biden had promised during the campaign to implement a 100-day moratorium on all deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) On Wednesday, hours after Biden was inaugurated, Pekoske signed a memorandum to review immigration enforcement policies. That memo included a 100-day pause, beginning Friday, of “certain noncitizens ordered deported.”
“The pause will allow DHS to ensure that its resources are dedicated to responding to the most pressing challenges that the United States faces, including immediate operational challenges at the southwest border in the midst of the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement.
The broad “pause” would have only a few exceptions. It would exclude those who, according to a written finding by the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have engaged in terrorism or espionage or who pose a danger to national security. It would also exclude those who were not present in the U.S. before Nov. 1, 2020, those who agreed to waive the right to remain, and those whom the ICE director individually determined need to be removed by law.
In his letter, Rubio notes that the broader enforcement memo says DHS will have “public safety” as one of its removal priorities, and that includes those who had been incarcerated for an “aggravated felony” and released after the issuing of the Jan. 19 memo.
“Does this mean someone convicted of an ‘aggravated felony’ including rape or sexual abuse of a minor, is not a priority for removal if they were released from jail on or before January 19, 2021?” he asks in the letter.
He goes on to ask if the deportation pause would also apply to someone who was convicted of an aggravated felony but was released before the Jan. 19 memo.
The moratorium is one of a number of immigration orders by the new president. Biden has signed an order halting construction of the wall at the southern border while the administration studies whether it can redivert money that has been assigned to it.
He also signed a memorandum to protect the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shields immigrants who came to the country illegally as children from deportation.
Other orders included an end to Trump-era travel bans, another revoking the Trump administration’s plan to exclude non-citizens from the census and the apportionment of congressional seats, and another to extend the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) designation for Liberians in the country until June 2022.
Biden is also forging forward with a sweeping immigration plan that includes an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, as well as immediate green cards for farmworkers and DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients.
Rubio, who was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that worked on a 2013 immigration compromise, dismissed the bill as a non-starter.
“There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them,” he said in a statement.