The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday offered detailed guidelines for carrying out an executive order signaling tougher immigration enforcement.
The memos make clear that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers as well as Customs and Border Protection agents will have a freer hand in enforcing immigration laws. The first memo handed down Tuesday repeals policies of former President Barack Obama that severely restricted who could be deported.
“Perhaps most critically, the president is empowering DHS to carry out the immigration laws already on the books.”
MORE NEWS: Harris Munches On Word Salad
“Perhaps most critically, the president is empowering DHS to carry out the immigration laws already on the books,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday at his daily press briefing.
LifeZette reported exclusively last week that some U.S. Border Patrol offices had not implemented Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order, citing a lack of policy directives. Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said he believes his complaints to upper-level management prompted Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to issue Tuesday’s memos.
Judd said as recently as last week, some Border Patrol managers were continuing to follow Obama’s “catch-and-release” policies in which officers had to release many of the people apprehended at the border, without even issuing notices to appear in court for immigration hearings.
“It was disappointing to me,” he said. “The executive order, you don’t need policy to know that we are not supposed to do that anymore.”
Immigration advocates blasted the new guidelines, with the American Civil Liberties Union even suggesting legal action.
“These 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,” ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project director Omar Jadwat said in a statement. “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.”
Obama’s policy directives curtailed the categories of illegal immigrants who would be deported. Kelly explicitly revered that.
“Except as specifically noted above, the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” one of the memos states.
Mark Krokorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said that is the most important line. “That’s what’s undoing Obama’s approach,” he said.
Organizations favoring tougher enforcement, however, said the Trump administration policies mostly reset immigration policies to what was standard operating procedure before the last few years of the Obama administration.
“They’ve expanded the pool of people prioritized for removal beyond the Obama administration,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “That’s the way we have done it in the past. It is the Obama administration’s policies were a radical departure.”
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA, said Kelly’s memos give more details to Trump’s executive order. ICE will focus its efforts on criminals and people under orders to leave the country, but officers now have freedom to arrest other people they encounter who are in the country illegally.
“For so long, the people at ICE and CBP had their hands cuffed behind them, and when they were going to deal with the mission of their job,” Spicer said. “The last administration had so many carveouts for who could be and who couldn’t be adjudicated that it made it very difficult for the customs and enforcement people to do their job and enforce the laws of our country.”
Chmielenski said the restrictions Spicer referenced did not come until later in the Obama administration.
“It somewhat resets it to what enforcement was like early in the Obama years and a little bit at the end of the Bush administration,” he said.
Kelly’s orders outline Trump’s commitment to hiring 10,000 additional ICE agents and 5,000 more Border Patrol officers. Spicer told reporters that the Department of Homeland Security was reviewing how much of that could be financed by reprogramming other funds and how much would have to be authorized by Congress.
The new policies restore the Secure Communities program to alert ICE when illegal immigrants are booked into jails and resurrects the 287(g) program, which allows local police to help enforce immigration laws. A new office will be established to act as a liaison to the victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Chmielenski said NumbersUSA supports the polices outlined by Kelly. But he added that the organization is disappointed by Trump’s decision — at least for now — not to revoke Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shields people brought to the United States as children, and Deferred Action for the Parents of Americans, which shields illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children.
Trump has indicated that he will leave DACA in place for now.
MORE NEWS: Real Americans Rejecting Abortion
“It’s still a big deal because on the campaign trail, [Trump] said he would repeal it on day one,” Chmielenski said.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the Obama administration was too lenient in granting DACA applications. She noted that Trump, as a candidate, called it an abuse of executive power.
“If it was true for President Obama, it’s true for President Trump,” she said.