February 21, 2017
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly officially ordered federal agents this week to begin arresting and deporting more illegal immigrants, releasing them from the handcuffs the Obama administration had imposed, and making headway on one of President Trump’s chief campaign promises.
While young adult illegal immigrant “Dreamers” are still exempted, agents were told there are no longer any other special classes of people that should be considered off limits for deportation.
Those caught at the border are to be swiftly shipped back, Kelly said, and he freed agents to target a broader universe of illegal immigrants for deportation from within the interior of the U.S. The secretary said agents are still to give priority to those with criminal rap sheets, but are free to use discretion — taken away from them in the Obama years — to detain anyone they believe to be in the country illegally.
“It is not intended to produce mass roundups,” a Homeland Security official said, briefing reporters on two new memos Kelly signed Monday.
The memos set the groundwork for building a wall and call for hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and 500 more officers for the Air and Marine operations at Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Funding those priorities will depend on Congress.
Secretary Kelly also said local police who want to help enforce immigration laws will be welcomed, rather than rebuffed, as they were under the Obama administration.
Drafts of the memos had leaked in recent days, sparking feverish outcry from immigrant-rights groups who said they were a major step back in respecting illegal immigrants.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats vowed scrutiny and resistance.
“We need an immediate public examination in Congress of these heavy-handed, anti-family policies,” said Sen. Dick Durbin,(D-Ill.). “The Senate should also pass the bill I’ve sponsored to repeal the mass deportation order. The Republican-controlled Congress has an urgent responsibility to do its constitutional duty and act as an independent check on President Trump.”
The two memos are watered down slightly compared to draft versions that leaked last week. Rather than being instructed they “should” arrest most illegal immigrants, as they were in an earlier version, agents are now told they “may” arrest anyone they deem a priority.
But overall, the memos are designed to carry out Trump’s first two immigration executive orders, signed Jan. 25.
The new memos do not address his “extreme vetting” policy, signed Jan. 27, which has become ensnared in court battles. An updated memo on vetting is expected later this week.
Under President Obama, immigration enforcement was chiefly a border matter. If migrants could sneak into the interior or, even if they were caught at the border, if they were part of a class Obama deemed protected, they were given low priority and allowed to disappear into the country with millions of other illegal immigrants.
Trump dramatically expands that “border” area both south and north. The policies will put pressure on Mexico to do more to stop the flow of people coming through its territory, and will also unleash immigration agents and prosecutors in the interior of the U.S. to arrest and deport migrants who would have been considered special classes under Obama.
But many of those details remain to be worked out.
Use of expedited removal — a swift deportation — will be expanded to cover more people. But the department will first go through a complex regulation process to figure out exactly how far it wants to go.
“We will see what happens there. We’re not going to start changing this today,” a Homeland Security official said.
Likewise, the official said they won’t immediately begin using a part of the memo that calls for shipping illegal immigrants caught at the U.S.-Mexico border back into Mexico while they are awaiting their deportation cases. That will “happen in time,” the official said.
“This would say ok, if you want to make a claim for asylum or relief from removal or whatever that case may be, we’re going to hear your case, but you’re going to wait in Mexico,” the official said.
Officials said there is no numerical goal for total deportations, and pushed back against charges from immigrant-rights advocates that mass deportations are in the offing.
“We don’t need a sense of panic necessarily in our communities here,” one department official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity. “What we’re doing is we’re simply executing the laws passed by the United States Congress.”