On Monday, as the Biden administration’s new Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration law went into effect, several immigrants held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities filed for immediate release.
“The new guidelines enacted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today represent a victory in the hard-won battle around anti-criminalization waged by organizers,” said Jacinta González, senior campaign organizer for Mijente. “For the first time, there are no categorical exclusions based on criminal convictions—in other words, no criminal conviction will automatically make someone a priority for deportation. Eliminating these criminal bars will help diminish the arbitrary and discriminatory framework used by law enforcement to take away immigrants’ rights.”
One of the filers on Monday, Enrique Cristobal Meneses, a Mexican citizen who immigrated to the United States at the age of 14 and was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for attempted murder in 2005, has been in ICE detention since having his sentence commuted by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in November 2020. Meneses claims to be suffering retaliation from ICE officials for his advocacy for better workplace conditions, including the deprivation of anti-anxiety medication and access to mental health services and the threat of being moved farther away from his attorney and allies in the community.
“From surveilling protests against family separation to deporting immigrant activists who speak out about ICE abuse, to pursuing deportation [of] undocumented people who do not pose a threat to public safety, DHS has weaponized immigration enforcement to punish those who speak out against injustice,” reads a statement from Mijente. “DHS frequently targets undocumented people who have already served time for criminal offenses, indefinitely incarcerating immigrants with no clear path to release—a practice proven to be deadly during the COVID pandemic.”
Another filer, Israel Arrascue, was sentenced to two months for a non-violent conviction but has been bounced between jail and immigrant detention center for nearly two years. In the meantime, Arrascue, who suffers from chronic asthma, caught COVID after a guard who refused to get vaccinated tested positive and spread the virus to detainees. He’s suffered other ailments while in detention, including prediabetes, high blood pressure, and being hospitalized for gallstones.
“Today begins another stage and opportunity for anti-deportation organizers around the country to continue fighting case by case,” said González. “We certainly have a lot to accomplish on immigration, but we want to take every opportunity to defend our people.”