On February 21, 2017, the Executive Associate Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit (ICE) announced that, “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.” Since this announcement, increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants have been subject to arrest, detention and removal from the U.S. without regard to family circumstances, length of residence, employer support or other equitable factors.
Under the Obama and Bush Administrations, undocumented immigrants were targeted for enforcement based on priorities which reflected the threat they posed to the United States. Those suspected of ties to terrorism, or who had criminal records or gang connections, those with drug offenses, repeat violators and those committing fraud were prioritized. Those with U.S. citizen spouses or children or who had committed no other offenses, were de-prioritized; in other words left alone, unless they had committed a crime. In those years, mostly due to limitations on enforcement resources and detention space, if an ICE agent wanted to arrest an undocumented worker that did not pose an immediate threat, they first had to get permission from their supervisor.
Since President Trump released his Executive Order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of The United States” in January, ICE officers have arrested nearly 50,000 individuals, representing an average of nearly 500 arrests per day. Now, with the ICE memo in effect, the number of arrests are expected to increase. The increased arrests certainly reflect promises made by President Trump during his campaign to his base. However, in practice, the heightened enforcement has caused havoc for families throughout the U.S., especially blended families in which the spouse or children might be citizens, while the wage earner might be undocumented.
The Trump Administration and those who support this more aggressive approach to immigration enforcement also believe that all undocumented immigrants are criminals because they entered the United States illegally. This idea is at the heart of Section I of the Executive Order which proclaims that individuals who “illegally enter the United States and overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety.” Although the Executive Order hints that ICE should make the criminal undocumented their top priority, in fact officers have been given broadened authority to arrest anyone in the U.S. without legal immigration status, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.
The consequences of enhanced enforcement are being felt across the U.S. Detention facilities are bulging with detainees. The Immigration Courts are breaking under the weight of over 500,000 backlogged cases. Families are being splintered apart, sending the rising working class into poverty.
For now, undocumented persons and immigration violators must be warned of the increased risk of enforcement. This means that an undocumented teenager going to their senior prom, a father picking up a child at day care(see attached), or a tradesman reporting for work, faces an equal likelihood of deportation as an immigrant drug dealer, gang member or petty criminal. And, unless politicians and the public push back or demand reform, the hardworking but undocumented spouse and/or parent of U.S. citizen will remain at risk of sudden apprehension, detention and removal. The U.S. and its laws and borders must be respected but a policy that does not differentiate between criminals and the innocent undocumented does not serve American interests. For more information about President Trump’s new executive order pertaining to undocumented immigrants click here.