U.S. immigration agency to delay some arrests due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The United States will delay arresting some people suspected of violating immigration laws until after the coronavirus crisis, authorities said on Wednesday, one of several recent emergency moves that could hamper President Donald Trump's aggressive immigration crackdown.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will focus its arrest and detention efforts on "public safety risks" and individuals with certain criminal convictions, the agency said in a public statement.

ICE also said it would use alternatives to detention when appropriate for lower-level offenders. Such alternatives include ankle bracelets and telephonic monitoring systems.

Trump has made hard-line immigration policies a centerpiece of his presidency and 2020 reelection campaign. However, the spread of the deadly coronavirus across the United States in recent weeks has led to a spate of emergency measures, including scaled-back immigration efforts.

Trump had put in place broader arrest and detention directives against all immigrants living in the country illegally, reversing Obama-era policies that had focused on immigrants with serious criminal records.

The U.S. government canceled all deportation hearings for immigrants not in detention on Wednesday after immigration judges and government prosecutors complained busy courts were putting them at risk of coronavirus infection.[USN:L1N2BA1WY]

Separately U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes visa and green card applications, sent a message to all employees late on Tuesday that in-person interviews - including for asylum seekers - and naturalization ceremonies for new citizens would be canceled around the country until at least April 1.

Attorneys for immigrant detainees have urged the release of their clients in recent days, arguing they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.[USN:L1N2B965F] (Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Cynthia Osterman)