Under a new federal policy, undocumented immigrants arrested for minor traffic violations may not be immediately flagged for deportation.
On Friday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, announced a change to its "Secure Communities" program, under which federal immigration agents partner with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement to identify and deport unauthorized immigrants who end up in jail.
Until now, immigration agents could place a hold on an arrested immigrant and start deportation proceedings as soon as that person was deemed to be in the U.S. illegally.
But ICE now says it will no longer consider deporting someone who is arrested solely for a minor traffic violation - like driving without a license - as long as that person has no prior criminal record.
If that person is convicted of the traffic charge, then the agency could deport them. But if acquitted, the person is likely to be allowed to stay in the country.
The change came at the recommendation of a federal task force that was asked to suggest ways for ICE to clear up confusion among local jurisdictions over who is required to participate in the Secure Communities program and to what extent. The program has been controversial since it was launched in 2008, with critics arguing that it has not stuck to its original goal of targeting dangerous immigrants or those with criminal pasts, and has instead turned into a tool for the indiscriminate, costly deportation of anyone in the country illegally.
The Obama administration announced a change to its deportation policy last year, when it expanded the ability of immigration officials to use discretion in targeting criminal immigrants for deportation.
In a statement, ICE officials said the new traffic violation policy “will help better focus ICE resources on those who pose a threat to public safety or national security, as well as repeat or egregious immigration law violators and recent border crossers.”