Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on April 21 that it will no longer be fining undocumented immigrants who fail to depart the United States. This action reverses the previous policy that often left immigrants thousands of dollars in debt to the federal government. ICE officials confirmed the rescission of two Trump-era orders, ending the collection of financial penalties and canceling fines already issued to undocumented immigrants.
“There is no indication that these penalties promoted compliance with noncitizens’ departure obligations,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated. “We can enforce our immigration laws without resorting to ineffective and unnecessary punitive measures.”
ICE’s Policy Change on Fines
The Biden administration, through an executive order, changed its focus to non-citizens who have a criminal background and are a threat to the United States. This has also decreased the number of illegal immigrants arrested and deported from the United States.
This announcement merely formalizes the policy change, as ICE ceased issuing fines as of January 20. For over 20 years, ICE has had the authority to impose fines on undocumented immigrants who are unlawfully present in the United States. But the department had never issued fines until 2018, according to ICE. The agency also reported that issuing the fines turned out to be unsuccessful, as only 1% of the issued fines were collected.
Fining Undocumented Immigrants
Previously, undocumented immigrants who did not comply with final orders of deportation were subject to fines of up to $799 for each day of their unlawful presence. Additionally, people who failed to voluntarily depart the United States would face a fine of $3,000 (adjusted for inflation).
Former President Donald Trump’s executive order called on the DHS to “ensure the assessment and collection of all fines and penalties” from non-citizens unlawfully present in the United States. In July 2019, this became national news when an ICE spokesperson said that the agency was “committed to using various enforcement methods, ‘including financial penalties,’ to enforce U.S. immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges.”
Edith Espinal, an undocumented immigrant who had found sanctuary inside a church in Columbus, Ohio, received a “notice of intention to fine” from ICE for $497,777, as her attorney made public in 2019. Ultimately, the agency withdrew her fine along with those of six other women who were living inside churches, according to the National Sanctuary Collective. “We knew that these exorbitant fines were illegal and nothing more than a tool to scare our clients and retaliate against them for fighting back and standing up to this administration,” Lizbeth Mateo, Espinal’s attorney, said after ICE revoked the fine.