The Latest from President Trump’s Administration: “Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement”

By Kim Alabasi

The pace at which the Trump administration is increasing immigration enforcement measures shows no signs of slowing down. The latest in a series of attempts to increase the apprehension of undocumented individuals in the United States came from Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 11, 2017 in the form of a memo to all federal prosecutors entitled “Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement.” The Memo builds on the many actions already taken by the president and members of his administration to aggressively target non-citizens living in the United States.

Many will remember that shortly after taking office, President Trump issued a series of Executive Orders on immigration. The first two Orders, entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” and “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”, were issued on January 25, 2017, and included several provisions designed to increase the apprehension of undocumented individuals on a wide scale and greatly increase immigration enforcement efforts along the southern border. A third Order attempting to prevent refugees and individuals from certain countries from obtaining visas to enter the U.S. was issued by the president on January 27th, 2017 and again on March 6, 2017. The Order, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” has been challenged by several states and its implementation continues to remain uncertain.

Following the issuance of the president’s first two Orders on increased border and interior enforcement, there were many questions surrounding how exactly the government would implement them and how it would impact individuals and families in the United States. On February 17, 2017, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly issued two memos to address these questions.

The first of the memos issued by Secretary Kelly is entitled “Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest.” Among other things, this memo states that, unlike the prior practice of prioritizing individuals for apprehension and removal, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will now execute immigration laws against “all removable aliens” and will no longer “exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” The memo defines removable aliens as those convicted of any criminal offense, even minor offenses, as well as those who have been charged with a criminal offense, even though there has been no conviction. The memo rescinds the pre-existing guidance and availability of “prosecutorial discretion” in which individuals were considered for administrative closure of their pending cases due to factors such as a lack of criminal history and family ties to the U.S., and also encourages the fast-track removal of certain individuals and increased involvement from local law enforcement in the enforcement of immigration laws. Also included in the memo is an order to the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hire 10,000 new ICE agents and officers.

The second memo issued by DHS Secretary Kelly is entitled “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies.” This memo requires DHS to detain nearly everyone it apprehends until they have either been processed through the immigration court system, are removed, or are paroled into the U.S. The memo notes that there is currently no capacity to detain such an increase in individuals- an estimated 200,000 people per day- but states that at some point there will be a sufficient number of judges and asylum officers to accommodate the increase. Like the other memo, this memo also calls on local law enforcement to act as immigration agents and orders immediate additional hiring, including the hiring of 5,000 border patrol agents and 500 “Air and Marine Agents/Officers.” The memo expands the use of “expedited removal” and orders Custom and Border Protection to “immediately begin planning, design, construction, and maintenance of a wall, including the attendant lighting, technology (including sensors), as well as patrol and access roads, along the land border with Mexico.” DHS has estimated that it will cost $21 billion to build an additional 1250 miles of fencing and other physical barriers by 2020.

Now comes the most recent publication from Attorney General Sessions, once again reinforcing the administration’s commitment to immigration enforcement, in particular as it relates to criminal law. In the April 11th Memo, “Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement,” the attorney general asks federal prosecutors to increase their efforts in the area of criminal immigration prosecution and make several immigration offenses “higher priorities.” These offenses include bringing in and harboring aliens, multiple and illegal entry offenses, identity theft and misuse of documents, and offenses relating to impeding law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties.

This most recent publication from the attorney general is in line with prior actions taken by the president and members of his cabinet to drastically ramp up enforcement against and removal of non-citizens in the United States. The effect of these actions has been felt locally by both the undocumented and those with some type of legal status, as individuals have been swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents following minor traffic infractions or other charges against them that have not yet resulted in any convictions. An increase in unconstitutional immigration inspections has been reported and many in the immigrant community are expressing fear and concern about the future. Continued immigration enforcement measures under the current administration are likely and those affected should seek competent legal counsel to protect themselves and their families.

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