Undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions now have more reason to worry about deportations, thanks to a set of documents put out by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday that expands the priorities set for federal immigration enforcement.
In two memos publicly released Tuesday, DHS Secretary John Kelly laid out an implementation plan to hire thousands more immigration officials, make more criminal offenses punishable by deportation, allow local law enforcement officials to carry out federal immigration duties, and make it easier to prevent entry to asylum-seeking children who show up at the southern U.S. border.
On a conference call with reporters, a DHS official insisted that the guidelines weren’t meant to incite “panic in the communities.”
“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses,” the DHS official said, as the Washington Post reported. “That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination. This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”
But advocates were appalled by the memos, saying the policies could lead to mass deportation regardless of what DHS officials publicly said.
“These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy,” Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a press statement.
“Please don’t let yourself be fooled — this is not close to the truth,” Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director at the immigrant rights group America’s Voice Education Fund, said on a press call Tuesday. “They obviously want to increase border agents, ICE agents. They want to expand who we’re looking for to almost any undocumented immigrant who is here. If this isn’t the instruction manual for mass deportation, then what is it?”
Reassurance from DHS officials has done little to assuage immigrants and advocates — whose lives have already been upturned by enforcement operations that took place earlier this month which detained more than 680 immigrants, according to ICE, including some undocumented immigrants granted deportation relief and parents with U.S.-citizen children.
Here are the main takeaways from the DHS memos, and what they mean for the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement moving forward:
Anyone with an immigration violation can be deported.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will no longer prioritize the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants who commit serious offenses. Instead, the question and answer section of the ICE website clarifies that the agency would not “exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” allowing immigration officials to go after essentially any undocumented immigrant.
“It’s fair to say that everyone is fair game.”
Deportable violations include committing fraud, like using a fake Social Security number to work and pay taxes in this country. The memo guideline also grants immigrant agents to pursue anyone who they believe could be a public safety or national security risk.
“Any crime will make a person deportable,” Tom Jawetz, the Vice President of Immigration at the Center for American Progress, said on the press call, explaining that any immigrant who served out a prison sentence with an old criminal conviction could still be considered deportable. “At this point in time, it’s fair to say that everyone is fair game.”
It could become easier to deport people who can’t prove that they’ve been here for more than two years.
Before the release of this guidance, immigrants were subjected to “expedited removal” if they were apprehended within 14 days of entering the country without authorization and within 100 miles of the two contiguous countries of Canada and Mexico. Under this pair of memos, however, the parameters for removal have been moved back two years. That means that immigrants who have been in the country for upwards of two years may never be able to plead their cases in front of an immigration judge.
The question and answer section of the executive order stated that “the Secretary’s intentions regarding expedited removal are under development and will be set forth and effective upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register.”
Among the people who would be affected include unaccompanied children who have fled violence in their home countries in Latin America and are now seeking humanitarian relief in the United States. Under international law, these non-citizens have a right to make a case that they should get to stay here because conditions in their home countries could lead to their persecution or death. But under the guidance, if people aren’t able to immediately produce documents attesting to why they have a “credible fear” to apply for asylum, they could be sent home.
Such a policy could put the 59,692 unaccompanied children who entered the southern U.S. border during the 2016 fiscal year at risk of deportation— which overlooks why children are running in the first place.
“The more due process you take away from immigrants, the greater risk of [deportation] happening,” Jawetz said.
Immigration agents are police and police are immigration agents.
Under the memo guidance, the ICE agency could call on local law enforcement to help detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
The memo calls for the restoration of the Secure Communities Program, a program ended during the Obama administration that allowed for expanded cooperation between local law enforcement officials and federal agents.
Meanwhile, the memo states that an Obama-era program called the Priority Enforcement Program — which prioritized the deportation of immigrants who committed serious crimes, and called on local law enforcement to be more lenient on criminal immigrants with longstanding ties to the country — will be terminated.
DHS also plans to hire upwards of 10,000 agents and officers to support enforcement activities.
The memos could quickly erode trust between immigrants and local police officers, since it’s legal for local law enforcement officials to be deputized as immigration enforcers.