By Josh Dawsey and Ted Hesson
February 21, 2017
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 and detain 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 will also prioritize 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 each of these criteria will be determined."
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 says, explaining its rationale.
In the memos, the administration also makes clear that driving without a license, a frequent offense for undocumented immigrants, could make the individual "subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
The memos 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.
The memos 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 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."
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