President Donald Trump’s sweeping immigration enforcement directives will allow for far more deportations than those in place during the Obama administration, according to new documents released by the US Department of Homeland Security.
Memos released by DHS secretary John Kelly prioritise the removal of undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offence”, including those who “have abused any programme related to receipt of public benefits”.
Last month, the President signed two executive orders relating to the southern border with Mexico. The first directed the construction of a wall in the region, despite the existence of some 700 miles of barrier already in place. The second boosted the number of border patrol agents and immigration enforcement officers who carry out raids and deportations. Mr Kelly’s memo essentially makes the latter into agency policy, and provides a framework to its implementation.
“Criminal aliens have demonstrated their disregard for the rule of law and pose a threat to persons residing in the United States. As such, criminal aliens are a priority for removal,” Mr Kelly says in the memo, adding that he directed US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hire 10,000 more agents “expeditiously”.
The language of the memo opens the door for more wide scale deportation operations. The Obama administration carried out the largest number of deportations, tallying nearly three million. However, it prioritised undocumented immigrants who were convicted of serious crimes. The new DHS guidelines would allow ICE officers to remove a larger category of people, including those who have committed petty crimes.
In addition to the hiring of new agents, the DHS is looking to expand the number of detention facilities and establish a new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. It would also revive a programme, known as 287(g), that would give local police the authority to act as immigration enforcement officers.
The directive will also expand expedited removals of undocumented immigrants. Previously, US border patrol and ICE agents only had the authority to immediately remove people within 100 miles of the border who had been in the country for 14 days. The new policy allows for the quick removal of people who have been in the US for up to two years and anywhere in the country.
Immigrants’ rights advocates quickly condemned the memo as “un-American” and insisted that the Trump administration will yet again have to face the US court system.
“These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the wellbeing of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy,” said Omar Jadwat, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “However, President Trump does not have the last word here – the courts and the public will not allow this un-American dream to become reality.”
Mr Trump relied on the narrative that undocumented immigrants are carrying out violent attacks on American families during his presidential campaign, asserting the incorrect statistic that “thousands” of people had been killed.
“Thousands of Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants,” he said at an October rally in Springfield, Ohio. The remark mirrored countless others where Mr Trump proclaimed that – often white – Americans fell victim to “illegal immigrants” whom he said had been deported multiple times.
But these assertions of violent crime waves stemming from undocumented immigrants left out significant context and data.
In fact, according to the Pew Research Centre, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in the US.
Secretary Kelly’s guidelines come after the leak of a draft memo that suggested the Trump administration was considering mobilising 100,000 National Guard troops to serve as immigration enforcement officers. The DHS denied the information included in the document, saying that the agency was not considering federalising the National Guard to carryout immigration enforcement duties.
Nonetheless, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said that, regardless of the leaked memo, a meeting with ICE officials clearly indicated that they were readying the agency to enact Mr Trump’s “mass deportations”.
“They seemed determined to go after as many people as possible because of the language of the executive order,” he said. “And the ICE director was very clear that they were going to follow that message.”