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Trump Administration Expands Enforcement of US Immigration Laws

  • Ken Schwartz

Wilfredo Mendoza of Boston, left, and Christina Villafranca of Malden, Mass., display placards during a rally called "We Will Persist" in Boston, Feb. 21, 2017. According to organizers, the rally was held to send a message to Republicans in Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump that they will continue to press for immigration rights and continued affordable health care coverage.

The Trump administration is expanding enforcement of U.S. immigration laws that could result in immediate deportation for millions of undocumented migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the new guidelines Tuesday. Previous policies focused on deporting illegal migrants convicted of so-called serious crimes.

The new policies greatly expand that to include anyone in the country illegally who is guilty of just a minor offense, such as shoplifting, or even suspected of a crime.

"Effective immediately," the document read, "department personnel shall faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens."

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also says the agency plans to hire thousands of enforcement agents and assign local authorities to act as immigration officers.

Immigrants who cannot prove they have been in the country for at least two years would be subject to "expedited removal."

The new guidelines also call for enforcement of a seldom-used law that lets the U.S. send people caught trying to cross the Mexican border back to Mexico for detention, no matter what country they originally came from.

Approximately 750,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — known as "dreamers" — are unaffected by the expanded policies.

FILE - Then-President Barack Obama meets with a group of "dreamers" who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) coverage at the White House in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015.
FILE - Then-President Barack Obama meets with a group of "dreamers" who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) coverage at the White House in Washington, Feb. 4, 2015.

Approach to DACA

Last week, Trump told the media during a news conference he plans to deal with those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program "with heart," a subject he called "very, very tough."

"You have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say, mostly," Trump said. "I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do, and you know the law is rough."

But immigration groups and civil libertarians say millions of people will be terrified to step out of their front doors, fearing they could be arrested and deported for no clear reason.

"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," the American Civil Liberties Union's Omar Jadwat said Tuesday.

But the expanded policies should not be a surprise. Trump promised throughout his campaign to get tough on illegal immigration, saying the safety of the American people and the security of U.S. borders were paramount concerns.

He made building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a theme of his presidential campaign.

FILE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony in Dallas, March 6, 2015.
FILE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony in Dallas, March 6, 2015.

Agents 'to operate unfettered'

"Virtually every immigrant is now a priority for detention and deportation. Immigration and border agents will increase dramatically in number and are empowered to operate unfettered," Joanne Lin, American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel, has said in a statement.

"State and local law enforcement agencies, including those with records of racial profiling and police brutality, are encouraged to become immigration agents," Lin said.

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower-court ruling blocking Trump's executive order banning immigration and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. The president says a revised executive order could come later this week.

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