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White House didn’t say immigrants convicted of rape would not be deported

February 12, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The White House confirmed that people living in the country illegally who are convicted of rape or assault will not be deported.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that new priorities for the enforcement of immigration laws may not include immigrants convicted of DUIs or assault. Rape convictions were not mentioned in a draft version of new interim guidelines from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

THE FACTS: On the first day of President Joe Biden’s administration, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo directing the department to review its immigration enforcement practices. The memo states that in the interim, immigration officials should prioritize deporting immigrants who are threats to national security, border security and public safety, though officials will continue to have discretion to apprehend and detain people who fall outside those priorities.


DHS has yet to issue guidelines about how the Jan. 20 memo should be implemented.

On Feb. 4, ICE’s acting director, Tae Johnson, sent an email to senior officials that included draft guidance until the guidelines are finalized. His email listed a number of criminal convictions, including drug crimes, simple assault, fraud and DUI, that would not make someone a priority for deportation. The contents of the email were first reported by the Washington Post and then confirmed by The Associated Press.

Asked about that report on Monday, Psaki acknowledged that new priorities for the enforcement of immigration laws would focus on new arrivals and those who pose a national security threat or a public safety threat.

“Nobody is saying that DUIs or assault are acceptable behavior,” Psaki said. “And those arrested for such activities should be tried and sentenced as appropriate by local law enforcement. But we’re talking about the prioritization of who is going to be deported from the country.”

Psaki never mentioned sexual assault or rape. However, the conservative blogger and Townhall.com editor Katie Pavlich misheard the response and tweeted false claims about what Psaki said.


“White House confirms illegal aliens convicted of assault or rape will not be deported,” read Pavlich’s tweet.

Pavlich later deleted the tweet and posted a new tweet acknowledging she misheard Psaki. But other social media users have continued to spread the false claim.

“The White House confirmed that illegal aliens convicted of rape or assault will not be deported,” reads a tweet from Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. “Meanwhile, you can still go to jail for holding a church service. This is Joe Biden’s America.”

Screenshots of Kirk’s tweet then circulated on other social media sites, including in an Instagram post by former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

In fact, there is no basis to the claim that ICE will not deport immigrants convicted of rape. The agency issued a statement that reads, “ICE retains its unlimited discretion to evaluate any conduct in defining a public safety threat. The January 20 memorandum is clear on this point.”

The memo makes clear that immigrants released from prison or jail after being convicted of an “aggravated felony” — a broad category of criminal offenses defined under federal immigration law — and who are considered a public safety risk, would be a priority for deportation. ICE also said in a statement that immigrants may be a priority to deport for safety reasons even if they have not been convicted of an aggravated felony.

The question of which kinds of crimes can lead to deportation does not only apply to immigrants in the country without legal permission. Immigrants who are in the country legally can have their status revoked and may face deportation if they commit certain offenses, including rape.

Greg Chen, senior director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in many cases a rape conviction would be considered a public safety threat and an aggravated felony, and therefore would make someone a priority for deportation under the administration’s stated goals.

“Certainly there is nothing so affirmative from the White House saying they would not be deported because of rape,” Chen told the AP. “DHS is still going to be making case by case determinations in each situation.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536