Trump steps up deportation push

The Trump administration on Tuesday released a pair of memos outlining aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, potentially resulting in millions of deportations if the White House puts muscle and money behind the policies.

The guidelines lay out sweeping changes from the narrower approach taken by former President Obama. The only Obama policy that survives is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that allows people who entered the country illegally as children to stay, usually for work or school.

But the White House said even ­DACA could be ultimately eliminated, as President Trump looks to take a tough approach.

The memos, signed on Friday by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, vastly increase the number of immigrants who are considered priorities for deportation. Reflecting that reality, the memos direct immigration enforcement agencies to hire thousands of new agents to apprehend people living in the country illegally, with local police and sheriffs’ offices enlisted in the effort.

Immigrant advocates reacted with alarm to the memos, fearing they signal the start of a mass-deportation program that will tear families apart and deprive people of their due-process rights. They said the guidelines could affect up to 8 million people.

“In my many years of practicing immigration law, I have not seen a mass deportation blueprint like this one,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Administration officials insisted that the memos simply outline Trump’s own priorities for who should, and who should not, be deported.

“No,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said when asked whether mass deportations are the goal. 

“Those people who are in this country and pose a threat to our public, or have committed a crime, will be the first to go, and we will be aggressively making sure that that occurs,” he said. 

The Department of Homeland Security guidelines do not change U.S. immigration law, which the president already has broad discretion to enforce.

Proponents of scaling back immigration celebrated the guidelines but cast them as an “interim solution” until Congress passes new laws.

“The number one thing is they’ve erased orders and policies and internal practice that’s built up over the past four administrations,” said Roy Beck, founder of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for less legal and illegal immigration. 

Beck said illegal immigration would persist until its underlying cause, the availability of jobs for people who immigrate without permission, is eliminated.

Under the Trump administration’s guidelines, any immigrant who is convicted, charged or suspected of a crime is considered a priority for removal.

That is a break from Obama administration policy, which focused its enforcement activities on serious criminals, recent border crossers and terrorism suspects.

Federal authorities will expand the use of “expedited removals,” which allow immigrants to be deported at a faster pace.

For the first time, agents in the interior of the country will be allowed to start expedited removal proceedings for immigrants who cannot prove they have been in the country for more than two years. The process does not require a court order.

That power was previously restricted to officers within 100 miles of U.S. borders, so they could quickly detain and remove immigrants as they entered the country.

“The memo contemplates a massive expansion of people being removed from the country without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Trump is also restoring programs, halted under the Obama administration, that allow local law enforcement officials to collaborate with federal immigration authorities.

Those programs, known as 287(g) and Secure Communities, deputize local law enforcement officials as immigration agents and allow them to incarcerate immigrants suspected of criminal activity for longer periods before they are turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In another policy shift, the memos open up the possibility of deportation or criminal prosecution for adults who help children enter the U.S. illegally.

That change is meant to discourage Central American children who make the often-dangerous trek into the country. The number has surged over the past three years, with minors fleeing gang violence in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

But the memos from Kelly say the system is being abused. They say 60 percent of unaccompanied minors are placed into the care of one or more parents living illegally in the U.S.

“Regardless of the desires for family reunification, or conditions in other countries, the smuggling or trafficking of alien children is intolerable,” one of the memos says.

The memos leave many questions unanswered, such as where officials will house the people swept up in raids.

Agencies are told to “allocate all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities,” but Congress would likely need to appropriate more money to build new detention centers.

There’s also the future of DACA, which remains unresolved.

Trump last week said the future of the program is a “very, very difficult subject” that his administration will handle “with heart.”

Immigration hard-liners are pushing Trump to stick by his campaign promise to end the program.

“I’m very puzzled by the fact that he’s leaving DACA ... in place,” Beck said. “He promised so many times on the campaign trail that he would end those on day one.”

Faced with a flurry of questions Tuesday, Spicer stressed that the administration’s priority is to strictly enforce the law.

Immigration enforcement agents felt hampered by Obama’s guidelines, Spicer said.

Trump “wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say, you have a mission, there are laws that need to be followed.”