The Department of Homeland Security issued two memos this week that offer the most detailed look yet at how the Trump administration plans to ramp up immigration enforcement in the coming weeks and months.
The memos, signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, outline policies that target the parents of Central American children who arrive alone at the U.S.-Mexico border; expand the immigrant detention system; and make virtually anyone who is in the country without permission a priority for deportation.
The documents were drafted in response to two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump during his first week in office. At the time, coverage of Trump's actions focused on how they would help achieve his promises to build a border wall and target so-called "sanctuary cities," overlooking some of the key practical issues that determine how immigration agents conduct day-to-day business.
A draft of the memos that was leaked to the press last week called for deploying the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants, but that sensational proposal was omitted from the final version. The memos are viewable in full at the bottom of this story, but here are some of the key takeaways:
Nearly everyone will be a target
While the memos keep in place — at least for now — Obama-era protections for people who were brought to the country illegally as children, they give immigration agents broad discretion about whom they can arrest. Specifically, Kelly's memo on "Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest" says, "Department personnel should prioritize removable aliens who... in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security." It also says that "unless otherwise directed, Department personnel may initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens encountered during the performance of their official duties."
That means that even if a DACA recipient — someone brought to the U.S. illegally as a child and subsequently given protection under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act — happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a raid, that person can and likely will be detained, meaning cases like the one last week in Seattle may soon become more common.
"Catch and release" will end
In the past, immigration agents would detain people and then release them with orders to appear at a later date in court to determine whether they have a legitimate right to stay in the country. Under Kelly's second order, that won't happen anymore.
"Policies that facilitate the release of removable aliens apprehended at and between the ports of entry, which allow them to abscond and fail to appear at their removal hearings, undermine the border security mission," he wrote. "Such policies, collectively referred to as 'catch-and-release,' shall end."
Immigrant rights advocates have warned that such a policy could lead to violations of due process, and in some cases under the new rules detained immigrants won't get to appear in court at all. If immigration agents catch someone who has already been ordered deported, Kelly wrote, the agents have the authority to "order the alien removed from the United States without further hearing or review."
Cities will be sanctuary-shamed
While the order doesn't lay out a way to cut off funding for "sanctuary cities" — places that don't always comply with federal requests for aid with immigration enforcement — it does offer a method for Homeland Security to publicly shame cities that refuse to cooperate.
Specifically, Kelly's memo says the department will issue a weekly report on "non-federal jurisdictions that release aliens from their custody." It says the report should include detailed info about where the immigrant was released, the crimes he or she was accused of, and "all arrests, charges, or convictions occurring after the alien's release from the custody of that jurisdiction."
The Border Patrol will get a lot bigger
Kelly's memos call for DHS to "immediately begin the process of hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents," along with 500 "Air & Marine Agents/Officers" who patrol the border in boats and planes. Perhaps more significantly, the memos call for reinstating the controversial 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement agencies to help enforce immigration laws.
Kelly called the program "a highly successful force multiplier," but immigration activists claim it results in "racially motivated questioning of individuals, pre-textual traffic stops, and unconstitutional searches and seizures in communities of color." Critics have also said it undermines relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement, making it less likely that victims of crimes will call the cops for fear that it will get them deported.
Plans for Central American kids will change
Migration from Mexico has declined in recent years, but there has been a huge influx of Central Americans, including many who are fleeing gang violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Over the last six months of 2016, the Border Patrol caught nearly 240,000 migrants, most of whom were from those three countries, a 30 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.
Many immigrants who make it to the border — about 155,000 over the past three years — are children who are traveling by themselves. These "unaccompanied minors" qualify for special treatment, and are usually released to parents or guardians in the U.S. One of Kelly's memos, however, calls for some significant changes to the system.
Most notably, it says that U.S. authorities will start prosecuting parents who have paid smugglers to have their kids brought to the border. "CBP shall ensure the proper enforcement of our immigration laws against any individual who directly or indirectly facilitates the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States," Kelly wrote. In addition to facing criminal charges, parents could also be deported.
The memo claims these new policies are intended to protect kids — it notes that "many of these children fall victim to robbery, extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault, and other crimes of violence" on the way to the border — but it ignores the fact that for parents, paying smugglers to help shepherd their children through Mexico is preferable to having them wander through cartel territory alone. The practice is very common.
DHS may also reinterpret what it means to be an "unaccompanied minor." Kelly's memo says the department will "establish standardized review procedures to confirm that alien children who are initially determined to be 'unaccompanied alien child[ren],'" in fact are, potentially excluding kids who have parents or guardians waiting for them in the U.S.
Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, vowed to fight back in court and said the 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."