The Department of Homeland Security will no longer be collecting civil financial penalties for noncitizens who fail to depart from the United States. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that “[t]here is no indication that these penalties promoted compliance” and that the penalties were “ineffective and unnecessary punitive measures.”
The fines for undocumented workers who failed to leave the country in accordance with an order of deportation were $799 per day. It is reported that one such immigrant who was seeking sanctuary in a church in Ohio was levied a fine of $497,777 (which was ultimately withdrawn after her attorney made the fine public). Fines of that nature were impossible to collect. Indeed, it is reported that ICE was only able to collect about 1% of the fines issued. DHS has had the ability to impose these penalties for twenty years, but they had not been used until 2018, during the Trump administration.
Secretary Mayorkas and Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson explained that the fines were ineffective and that ICE plans to coordinate with the Department of Treasury to cancel any pending debts. ICE stopped assessing these fines on the day President Joe Biden was inaugurated but now the rescission of these fines has been formally announced. This is part of the Biden administration’s overall plan to focus on removing individuals who pose “the greatest risk to national security and public safety.”
Acting Director Tae Johnson is a holdover from the Trump administration, which had eight acting directors of ICE but never a Senate-confirmed Director. On April 27, 2021, President Biden announced that he will nominate Ed Gonzalez, the current Harris County (Texas) Sherriff, to head ICE. Before becoming Sherriff in 2016, Gonzalez spent 18 years in the Houston Police Department and served several terms on the Houston City Counsel. He is known for his opposition to the “zero tolerance” policy and to having local law enforcement act on behalf of the immigration agency.
It is not yet known when his confirmation hearing will be scheduled.