Internal memo reveals ICE officers have free rein to detain any undocumented immigrant

Mass deportation has begun.

Members of the ICE fugitive operation teams arrest immigrants in Dallas, TX. CREDIT: Charles Reed/ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Members of the ICE fugitive operation teams arrest immigrants in Dallas, TX. CREDIT: Charles Reed/ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been instructed to place any undocumented immigrant they encounter in deportation proceedings regardless of their criminal history, according to an internal agency memo obtained by ProPublica.

Matthew Albence — the executive associate director for the ICE division in charge of deportation proceedings — wrote to the agency’s current staff of 5,700 deportation officers that “effective immediately, ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”

The memo also includes a priority list of undocumented immigrants for ERO officers to detain and put in removal proceedings. But the list appears broad enough to cover all categories of undocumented immigrants, including those who in the immigration officer’s judgement could “pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

The memo represents an even harsher stance toward undocumented immigrants than President Donald Trump has publicly articulated.


Through his campaign and into his presidency, Trump has portrayed undocumented immigrants as criminals, regardless of their backgrounds or their ties to the country. But along with the Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who oversees the ICE agency, the administration has indicated it would make exceptions in its immigration crackdowns for some “good” immigrants, including some so-called DREAMers who were brought to the country as children.

An ICE spokesperson told Propublica that the directive “directly supports the directions handed down in the executive orders and mirrors the language ICE consistently uses to describe its enforcement posture.”

However Sarah Saldaña, the former head of ICE for the Obama administration, said that the memo directives are different from the guidance was followed under the previous administration.

Under Obama, who earned the title of “deporter-in-chief” from immigration activists for the record number of deportations that took place under his administration, the majority of the detained undocumented population either had criminal histories or fell into a category where they could be considered a threat to public safety or national security.

“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” Saldaña told Propublica. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone above Matt Albence comes back and says, ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration,” Saldaña added.


It’s likely that the memo will only generate more fear in the year to come as Trump increases ICE’s resources to detain and deport immigrants. Trump signed an executive order earlier this year to hire 10,000 additional immigration officers. The 2018 fiscal year budget allows for the hiring of 1,000 ICE officers and 500 new Customs and Border Protection agents, the division responsible for border-related immigration activity.

There’s some indication that this memo has been followed closely since it was circulated internally five months ago.

For immigrants, the memo uncovers an unsettling reality that many have already witnessed. Since Trump took office, the biggest increase of arrests has been of immigrants with no criminal records. Other detentions include people with decades-old criminal records or minor infractions.

In a now-prescient meeting with Acting ICE director Thomas Homan in February, Democratic congressional members told reporters that it appeared all undocumented immigrants were “fair game.”

Update: The piece was updated to included more context from the ICE agency.