Cracking down on illegal immigration has long been a promised priority of President Donald Trump, but a new Department of Homeland Security document is providing insight into exactly how enforcement action is expected to change, significantly expanding the pool of undocumented immigrations who could be deported.
An implementation memo was issued over the weekend to provide guidance on Trump’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Executive Order signed in January.
It outlines plans to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents, as well 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The documents also call for plans to expand expedited removal, as well as expand the list of priority deportations.
Individuals convicted of criminal offenses remain at the top of the list; however, priorities now include those who have been charged with a criminal offense, those engaged in fraud, or have abused a program involving public benefits, or pose a risk to public safety in the judgment of an immigration officer.
The new guidance does not make changes to the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” known as DACA, signed in 2012 under President Barack Obama.
ICE will begin implementing the new enforcement priorities within 180 days, according to a spokesperson. Actions could include targeted operations as well as stepped up resources in areas with violent crime linked to gang activity.
The new executive order also makes clear that ICE will not exempt classes of undocumented immigrants from potential enforcement, according to the spokesperson. While anyone in violation of immigration law could be exposed to arrest, those linked to crimes are a priority.
“I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people who are going to be removed increases exponentially,” said Seattle University Immigration Law Professor Won Kidane. “Although, I must say, the Obama administration has removed a lot of people.”
Statistics from ICE show that nearly 3 million individuals were removed under the Obama administration, from 2008 through 2016.
Kidane also points out the law on the books, amended under President Bill Clinton in 1996 in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, has not changed.
“The law is extremely harsh but has never been enforced to the fullest extent,” said Kidane. “And, it’s never been the policy of the United States government, as far as I know, to remove the undocumented population.”
“The policy has been to tolerate a certain amount of indiscretion and violations of immigration, targeting those who have committed serious crimes, but now that policy appears to have changed and the policy is now to remove as many of the undocumented population as possible,” Kidane continued.
Kidane predicts pushback and lawsuits. Immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers report fear and anxiety among the immigrant community.
"Mandatory detention and deportation as broad brush strategies are neither effective nor human," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-7th District, in a statement Tuesday.
“I'm hearing from schools where kids are not signing up for free and reduced lunch for fear of unknown things happening to them. I am hearing from people who are worried about traveling,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Executive orders aside, Murray says what’s really needed is a comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress.
“Once we get past initial slew of thinking he's fulfilling campaign promises, then we can get back to a point that we sit down and say how can we do this right,” said Murray.
Washington’s four Republican members of Congress have not returned requests for comment as of Tuesday evening.