U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced on Wednesday agents will temporarily postpone most arrests due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead the agency will focus on only pursuing people who pose public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention on criminal grounds.
It is unclear how long the new strategy will be in place but officials explained in a statement the move is designed to "ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents."
"For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, [ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations] will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate," ICE said.
The change comes after immigrant advocates launched a campaign criticizing ICE for its continued enforcement operations despite widespread orders by public officials to begin ramping up social distancing efforts.
"More than 45 organizations signed a letter this week calling on the Department of Homeland Security to suspend such actions," The Los Angeles Times reported.
Agents will also stop operations at or near health care facilities, including hospitals, doctor's offices and urgent care facilities, "except in the most extraordinary of circumstances."
Officials instructed individuals not to avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.
Homeland Security Investigations will continue its work with prosecutors from the Department of Justice in carrying out investigations into child exploitation, human trafficking, human smuggling, gangs and narcotics trafficking.