The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released a set of documents translating President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and border security into policy, bringing a major shift in the way the agency enforces the nation’s immigration laws.
Under the Obama administration, undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were the priority for removal. Now, immigration agents, customs officers and Border Patrol agents have been directed to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offense.
That includes people convicted of fraud in any official matter before a governmental agency and people who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”
Austin-area immigration supporters call Trump’s policy too wide-ranging, saying it will lead the government to deport more immigrants who have committed minor offenses — or are merely suspected of a crime.
Gov. Greg Abbott applauded the move, which comes as little surprise given his continued support of the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on border security.
“Governor Abbott is pleased the federal government is stepping up and adding resources to secure the border after eight years of neglect under the Obama administration,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement. “The State of Texas will continue to work with our federal partners and will not flinch in our resolve to help secure our border and keep our citizens safe.”
The order is sure to be a source of angst at Saturday’s No Ban, No Wall rally at the Texas Capitol. A Facebook event page says 10,000 people are planning to attend. The protest will come a little more than a week after several area businesses closed their doors last Thursday for A Day Without Immigrants. About 20,000 Austin-area students skipped school.
Strasburger & Price immigration attorney Sujata Ajmera, of Austin, said Tuesday’s order is a clear threat to the Latino community; she advises people not to answer their door to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
“It’s creating a general sense of fear, not just among the population that are at risk of being personally impacted, but amongst the entire immigrant community, whether they’re here lawfully or not,” Ajmera said.
The order is consistent with the president’s campaign message, said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, a vocal opponent of Trump’s immigration policies.
“Trump campaigned on the persecution of immigrant communities, and that’s what these memos do,” he said.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly seemed to draw a link between the new White House and a federal immigration enforcement operation that led to 51 arrests of immigrants in the Austin area and nearly 700 arrests nationwide.
“President Trump has been clear in affirming the critical mission of DHS in protecting the nation and directed our department to focus on removing illegal aliens who have violated our immigration laws,” Kelly said.
Tuesday’s policy shift is likely to resonate well with Texas Republicans who, like Abbott, support beefing up security on the Mexico border. According to a recent Texas Tribune survey of 1,200 Republican voters, border security ranked first among issues confronting the state. Immigration was second, followed by political corruption/leadership.
The policy also calls for an expansion of expedited removals, allowing Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to deport more people immediately. Under the Obama administration, expedited removal was used only within 100 miles of the border for people who had been in the country no more than 14 days. Now it will include those who have been in the country for up to two years anywhere in the nation.
The change in enforcement priorities will require a considerable increase in resources. With an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, the government has long had to set narrower priorities, given the constraints on staffing and money.
In the so-called guidance documents released Tuesday, the department is directed to begin the process of hiring 10,000 new immigration and customs agents, expanding the number of detention facilities and creating an office within Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help families of those killed by undocumented immigrants. Trump had some of those relatives address his rallies in the campaign, and several were present when he signed an executive order on immigration last month at the Department of Homeland Security.
The directives would also instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, to begin reviving a program that recruits local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help with deportation, effectively making them de facto immigration agents. The effort, called the 287(g) program, was scaled back during the Obama administration.
The program faces resistance from many states and dozens of so-called sanctuary cities, which have refused to allow their law enforcement workers to help round up undocumented individuals.
Senior Homeland Security officials told reporters Tuesday morning that the directives were intended to more fully make use of the enforcement tools that Congress has already given to the department to crack down on illegal immigration. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity during a morning conference call, emphasized that some of the proposals for increased enforcement would roll out slowly as the department finalizes the logistics and legal rules for more aggressive action.
In particular, the officials said that returning Central American refugees to Mexico to await hearings would be done only in a limited fashion, and only after discussions with the government of Mexico, which would most likely have to agree to accept the refugees.
The officials also made clear that nothing in the directives would change the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provides work permits and deportation protection for the young people commonly referred to as Dreamers.
But the officials also made clear that the department intended to aggressively follow Trump’s promise that immigration laws be enforced to the maximum extent possible, marking a significant departure from the procedures in place under President Barack Obama.
That promise has generated fear and anger in the immigrant community, and advocates for immigrants have warned that the new approach is a threat to many undocumented immigrants who had previously been in little danger of being deported.
Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership in Austin, said the changes are scary for the immigrant population.
“Expanding the definition of criminal now puts everyone and anyone at risk for deportation,” he said.
This report includes information from The New York Times, with contributions from American-Statesman staff writers Ryan Autullo, Sean Collins Walsh and Nolan Hicks.
Trump’s immigration orders
Direct customs officers and Border Patrol agents to deport any unauthorized immigrant convicted of any criminal offense.
Expand the number of unauthorized immigrants subject to expedited removal.
Hire 10,000 new immigration and customs agents.
Do not change the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiated during the Obama administration.