Questions Multiply as Aggressive Immigration Enforcement Policy Takes Form
By Israel Saenz, Attorney
President Trump’s ongoing legal battles in the courts have dominated headlines of late. But while the government has defended its controversial executive orders, the Trump administration has simultaneously rolled out an aggressive immigration enforcement policy. Concerns about enforcement were in no short supply among practitioners and experts in the field at the annual American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conference held in New Orleans last month.
Particularly concerning to many attorneys are the ramped-up activities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency charged with enforcing immigration law.
Experts have noted increasing instances of ICE agents searching for undocumented residents at venues such as county courthouses, where those individuals might appear for unrelated legal issues.
According to Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, while ICE has continued to adhere to the agency's longstanding policy not to detain or arrest suspected undocumented immigrants at “sensitive locations” like schools or mosques, by many accounts, arrests at places like local courts have spiked. This is problematic, Murray added, because undocumented residents often choose not to appear in court for purposes of avoiding potential ICE capture.
The uptick in enforcement activities is a drastic departure from the agency’s policy during President Obama’s tenure, when ICE practiced “priority enforcement.” The Obama-era Priority Enforcement Program sought out individuals for transfer into ICE custody who had either participated in organized criminal gang activity or had otherwise posed a national security threat.
But under current ICE policy, “everyone has been made a priority for removal,” Murray said. When “low-hanging fruit” individuals, as Murray termed them, are targeted for enforcement, resources are diverted from targeting individuals who pose actual threats.
Changes to enforcement activities are just one of the numerous issues with which even preeminent immigration experts at the AILA conference were grappling. According to Murray, in the Trump administration’s budget request, the government has asked for sizeable increases to federal funds used for enforcement, including $1.6 billion for a border wall and a 50-percent increase in the number of detention beds. As a result of lengthy detentions and a larger detention capacity, an increase in the number of detention beds is likely to coincide with an increase in the number of detained individuals choosing to depart the country.
Further, it remains unclear as to whether or not the administration will preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Started under the Obama administration, DACA grants deferred action for a period of time for certain individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children. While DACA’s fate is unknown, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last month quietly rescinded DACA’s sister program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, program.
And as we have reported to our readers at length, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this October on President Trump’s so-called travel ban, which has restricted immigration from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In the interim, the Court has allowed the government to enforce the ban, albeit with restrictions that protect citizens of the six countries with “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”
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