President Donald Trump pledged during his campaign to create a deportation force. Now, he’s equipped federal immigration agents with the tools to potentially remove millions of immigrants from the country.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a pair of guidance memos Tuesday that gives federal immigration agents wide latitude to arrest, detain and deport undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants with criminal records.
The memos create a blueprint for how to enact two Trump executive orders, one that deals with interior enforcement and another that deals with border security.
Serious criminals will still be a top target for federal immigration officers. But the priorities will be greatly expanded to include undocumented immigrants charged with crimes or those who have committed acts that could constitute a chargeable offense.
The Trump administration’s deportation push will not be limited to undocumented immigrants. The memo stresses that all “removable aliens” could be subject to immigration enforcement under the new guidelines.
The left-leaning Migration Policy Institute found that more than half of an estimated 1.9 million deportable immigrants with criminal records were in the country lawfully, either using green cards or some other type of visa.
The guidance issued Tuesday prioritizes the arrest of deportable immigrants who have «abused» public benefits, misrepresented themselves, or «in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.» The memo gives few specifics on how each of these criteria will be determined.
The guidance also makes clear that driving without a license, a frequent offense for undocumented immigrants, could make an individual «subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.»
On a background call with reporters, a DHS official stressed that serious criminals will remain a priority for enforcement, despite the new policy changes.
“We have limited resources and we will, to the extent that we absolutely can, focus on cartel members, gang members, folks who committed serious crimes,” the official said. “But the fact that you’re not a priority does not exempt you from the potential of enforcement. I would just say that, realistically speaking, there are obvious limits to what we can and can’t do on a daily basis.”
The official pushed back against the idea that the new policies would allow for mass deportations. “We don’t need a sense of panic,” the official said. “We’re simply executing the laws that are passed by the United States Congress.”
But the guidance presents undocumented immigrants as a dire threat. «The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,» the administration said, explaining its rationale.
The memos also say DHS will hire 10,000 new immigration officers and reverse a number of Obama administration policies. Specifics on how the agency will hire so many officers remain scarce, with the administration saying they are working on a «hiring plan.»
«Except as specifically noted above, the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,» the memo says. It adds: «The Department will no longer afford Privacy Act rights and protections to persons who are neither U.S. citizens nor lawful permanent residents.»
The DHS memos specifically point out that President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remains in place. The program, launched in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country at a young age to live and work in the U.S.
Still, DACA enrollees could be swept up in Trump’s greatly broadened priorities for deportation. An undocumented immigrant deemed “a risk to public safety” in the eyes of a federal immigration officer could be subject to removal, as could someone charged with a crime, but not convicted.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) issued a statement Monday in response to earlier leaked copies of the memos that called the new enforcement policies “heavy-handed” and “anti-family.” Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chair of the immigration subcommittee, to hold hearings on the executive orders. The senator also introduced a bill last week that would repeal Trump’s immigration enforcement order.
The memos released on Tuesday also say the president is directing all agencies to discern how much funding Mexico gets from the United States, in an apparent bid to force the country to pay for the wall. And they give some specifics on a new border wall that the president has promised in an executive order.
«As noted above, initial construction of new infrastructure will focus on locations near El Paso, Texas, El Centro, California, and in Southern Arizona,» the memo says. The agency, without offering proof, says it has identified the money to begin constructing the wall.
The agency says it will work with local law enforcement agencies across the country to begin removing «illegal aliens» through the 287-g program, which allows local and state officials to detain illegal immigrants.
«Although detention space may be limited at times, ICE is committed to arresting and processing all removable aliens,» the memo says.
The border security memo also could expand the use of “expedited removal,” a process that allows federal immigration officers to deport someone without a hearing or further review of their case (unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers who establish credible fear of persecution are exempt).
The new guidance points out that under existing immigration law, undocumented immigrants could be subject to expedited removal if they can’t prove they’ve lived in the U.S. for two years prior to when they were found inadmissible. The Obama administration previously limited expedited removal to undocumented immigrants encountered within 100 air miles of the border and within 14 days of entry into the U.S.
The memo states that DHS will publish a notice in the Federal Register to determine the new expedited removal policy.
The memos also say the administration will limit parole into the United States, to only be used «sparingly and only in cases where, after careful consideration of the circumstances, parole is needed because of demonstrated urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.»