Under the Obama administration, immigrants in the U.S. illegally who had been convicted of serious crimes were prioritized for deportations. Under the new rules, federal agents could seek to deport people in the country illegally who were convicted of any crime, no matter how minor. In fact, agents could prioritize for deportation people who have just been charged with a crime — or people who have committed an act for which they could be charged.
Anyone who has “abused any program related to receipt of public benefits,” and anyone an immigration officer deems a risk to public safety or national security, also could be marked as a priority.
Ever since Donald Trump entered the presidential race, his comments on illegal immigration have been pored over in the press — from vows to deport millions of people to promises that any enforcement plan would have “a lot of heart.” Observers asked, again and again, how rhetoric would translate into actual policy.
Now activists and experts have the policies themselves to examine.
On Jan. 25, Trump signed a pair of executive orders on immigration enforcement (not to be confused with his “travel ban” affecting refugees and seven majority-Muslim countries). The documents signaled that he would pursue a path of greatly expanded deportations — and an actual wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
This travel ban is now temporarily on hold pending court action.
The new guidance makes it more difficult to seek asylum in the US, allows the detention of substantially more undocumented immigrants and gives more authority to immigration officers — all of which could add up to a huge increase in the number of undocumented immigrants held in detention facilities by the US government.
The border security guidance also expands upon ending the so-called “catch-and-release” policies that allow individuals to be paroled from detention while awaiting immigration court proceedings, which can take years. The memo orders a surge in immigration judges and detention facilities to accommodate the holding of these individuals and lays out high thresholds for people to be released pending immigration proceedings.
The memo gives room to tighten the standard for meeting the initial “credible fear” test for immigrants to be considered for asylum in the US, a threshold that tens of thousands of asylum seekers now meet each year.
Past Department of Justice guidance has given some leeway to those who perceive a risk of persecution or torture in their home countries. While the memo does not explicitly raise the standard for finding a “significant possibility” that an immigrant could be granted asylum, it places a high bar on whether the perceived threats are credible.
“The asylum officer shall consider the statements of the alien and determine the credibility of the alien’s statements made in support of his or her claim and shall consider other facts known to the officer, as required by statute,” the guidance states. “The asylum officer shall make a positive credible fear finding only after the officer has considered all relevant evidence and determined, based on credible evidence, that the alien has a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum, or for withholding or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture, based on established legal authority.”
Further, for immigrants to be released pending asylum proceedings after meeting the credible fear threshold, the memo requires that an ICE immigration officer is satisfied the person “affirmatively establishes” his or her identity and that he or she presents no security or flight risk and agrees to conditions imposed by ICE for public safety reasons.
The guidance also makes it more difficult for children entering the country without authorization to be treated as “unaccompanied alien children.” Under the law, the designation is for those under 18 years old who do not have a parent with them or available to care for them in the US.
The executive order notes that in some cases, individuals continued to receive protection as unaccompanied alien children even when they had a parent or guardian living illegally in the US, saying it led to “abuses” of the system. Kelly’s memo calls for new guidance to end those “abuses.”
The executive order also instructed DHS to enforce of a little-used provision of the law to return asylum seekers to the contiguous territory from which they entered the US, namely Mexico. The measure would potentially send non-Mexican asylum seekers from Central America over the southern border while they await asylum proceedings instead of letting them wait in the US, a policy with which Mexico would likely take issue.
Kelly’s memo orders the implementation of that policy and the creation of a video conferencing system to allow those removed individuals to appear at hearings without being brought back into the US.
Significantly, the interior safety order explicitly leaves intact President Barack Obama’s executive orders on deferred action for childhood arrivals, known as DACA, which protects undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from being removed and orders the low prioritization of undocumented immigrants who are parents of US citizens. The memo says, however, that the latter policy “will be addressed in future guidance.”
The memo re-articulates Trump’s enforcement priorities from his executive order, which prioritizes for the removal certain serious criminals and others posting public safety threats, but it also broadens the scope beyond the Obama administration’s measure to include virtually any undocumented immigrant in the US if they are even suspected of a crime.
At the same time, the memo declares: “The Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” which could imply that those protected by DACA could still be subject to removal proceedings.
The memos also expand what’s known as the “287(g)” program, which allows the federal government to empower state and local law enforcement agencies to perform the functions of immigration officers. The language in the memo authorizes the CBP and ICE “to accept state services” on enforcement, but makes no mention of the National Guard, as an early draft reported by The Associated Press on Friday had done.
The memo gives broad leeway to immigration officers to make immediate decisions about whom to arrest and says officers should begin actions against individuals they meet in the course of their official duties.
“This includes the arrest or apprehension of an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws,” the implementation guidance reads, giving officers broad authority to arrest those they suspect of being undocumented.
The guidance also takes any money being used by DHS to advocate on behalf of undocumented immigrants to establish the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office, which is mandated by the executive order to report crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and to advocate for victims of those crimes.
The bottom line is that life has become considerably hard for immigrants and it is time for immigration advocates to step up and do all that is necessary to protect these vulnerable people.
The National Association of Business Economics (NABE) surveyed 285 economists at America’s big companies like Wells Fargo (WFC), AT&T (T, Tech30) and FedEx (FDX) shortly after Trump took office.
The economists were asked what they thought of Trump’s policies. The response was clear: They disagree with Trump on immigration, NAFTA and how to handle the debt.
Unlike Trump, these business experts favor “relaxed immigration policies” to boost the economy.
Nearly half (49%) support an increase in U.S. immigration. Another 27% don’t think Trump should make any changes to immigration policy. In other words, 216 leading business economists don’t think the U.S. needs to crack down on the number of people coming into America.
“Panelists especially favor expanding the H-1B visa program for high-skill workers,” says Richard DeKaser, corporate economist at Wells Fargo and NABE survey chair. Businesses continue to complain that they cannot find enough skilled workers.
This is a nation of immigrants, and immigrants are critical in making America great again.
Japheth N. Matemu
*most of the information in this writing is based on CNN reporting and in some instances is quoted verbatim.
The conclusions and opinions, unless otherwise stated, are those of Japheth Matemu.