The president granted himself sweeping authority to step up deportations, and he's poised to use it.
The arrests of hundreds of immigrants last week marked the first large-scale raid under the Trump administration — and the crackdown was, by all indications, just the start of much more to come.
The expansive executive order signed last month by President Donald Trump allows a significantly broader population of immigrants to be picked up for deportation. And Trump has signaled he has every intention of using that authority to carry out his campaign pledge to deport millions of foreigners from the United States.
Immigration advocates say the stepped-up enforcement amounts to a new deportation dragnet that’s ensnaring otherwise law-abiding immigrants.
“In four weeks, we’ve seen three incredibly harsh executive orders targeting the immigrant community,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “This is what he campaigned on, and now the country has to deal with the consequences.”
But for Trump, it’s working out just as planned.
“We’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very hardened criminals in some cases — with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems, and we are getting them out,” Trump said at a news conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “And that’s what I said I would do.”
One of Trump’s top advisers, Stephen Miller, also credited the administration’s new executive order with the “more vigorous immigration enforcement activities,” telling Fox News that Trump has “taken new and greater steps to remove criminal aliens from our communities.”
In a statement Monday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly confirmed that more than 680 immigrants were swept up in so-called “targeted enforcement operations” across several cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City.
About three-fourths of those arrested were immigrants who had been convicted of crimes ranging from homicide, aggravated sexual abuse and drunken driving. The rest were picked up for various immigration violations, such as illegally reentering the country after being removed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, as well as Kelly himself, have maintained that the raids were nothing more than routine operations that immigration authorities have carried out for years, including under the Obama administration.
But immigration advocates say the Trump administration has the capacity to go far beyond what President Barack Obama — who deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants during his tenure — ever did.
In his Jan. 25 executive order, Trump said any immigrant who had been merely charged with a crime could be targeted for deportation. That’s a significant departure from Obama’s policy: the previous administration primarily sought out only immigrants who had been convicted of felonies or at least three misdemeanors.
The Trump directive also calls on federal authorities to target immigrants who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” which immigrant advocates say is too broad a description.
Another major change: The Obama administration largely gave a pass to law-abiding immigrants who arrived illegally before January 2014. But the Trump directive contains no similar cutoff date, meaning immigration agents are free to target immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades.
Even the less-prominent provisions in Trump’s order could, in the advocates’ view, wrongly ensnare immigrants. For instance, the order deems those who have “engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation” before the government as priorities. That could mean that immigrants accused of lying during a green card interview could be targeted for deportation, according to Cleveland-based immigration attorney David Leopold.
“When you read that executive order, there is no other conclusion that you can draw except that everybody is a target. Everybody,” said Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “It’s carefully couched in terms of prioritizing criminals, but it’s designed to encourage and allow ICE agents to pick up anybody they can get their hands on.”
Criticism of the Trump administration’s far-reaching crackdown has been mounting for days, although it has largely focused on a separate order that called for barring travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations, as well as all refugees. That directive has been blocked by the courts.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday that ICE officials need to be more forthcoming about the nature of the agency’s most recent raid operations, including where they were held and details of immigrants who were arrested.
“I have always supported smart immigration enforcement that helps to keep our country safe,” Schumer said Monday. “But raids targeting law-abiding immigrants and treating those with traffic violations the same as murderers and robbers will only achieve the opposite.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has already called for hearings to investigate Trump’s trio of immigration executive orders, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders are meeting with acting ICE director Thomas Homan on Tuesday to discuss the raids.
But advocates for a tougher approach to illegal immigration said the raids — and Trump’s pledge to keep up the enforcement tactics — are nothing more than a return to what was commonplace before Obama loosened some deportation priorities.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, called the roundups “a start” and added that he would like to see “more systematic efforts” to target employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
He called the reaction from immigrant rights groups “hysterical” and “almost comically exaggerated.” In his view, organizations grew too accustomed to lax enforcement under Obama.
“This is a return to normalcy, if you will, rather than some kind of radical departure,” Krikorian said. “It was Obama that represented the radical change in practice.”
Roy Beck of NumbersUSA says he prefers mandatory E-Verify — an internet-based system that allows businesses to check whether employees are in the U.S. legally — instead of wide-scale arrests. But until Congress passes a law requiring businesses to use the verification system, raids are the best tactic available, he said.
The recent raids are sending waves of fear through immigrant communities across the country, immigrant advocates say. They’ve been scrambling in recent days to respond to reports of ICE activity and to keep track of where enforcement actions have taken place, with little assistance from federal immigration authorities.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said her organization had received 2,000 calls from worried residents in recent days.
Others worry that with ICE agents greatly empowered to make arrests, undocumented immigrants who answer the door will be nabbed even if those individuals aren’t the intended target of the operation.
One frequently cited case is that of Manuel Mosqueda Lopez, a 50-year-old house painter in Los Angeles who was arrested by ICE after agents came to his home looking for someone else. He was put on a bus to Tijuana and nearly deported before his lawyers intervened.
The lack of information from federal immigration authorities has further disquieted immigrant rights leaders. But Claude Arnold, a retired ICE special agent in charge based in Los Angeles, said it’s routine for the agency to withhold details of an operation in order to protect agents.
ICE could also begin to use mobile units to scan fingerprints of suspected undocumented immigrants found during enforcement operations, Arnold said. He said the fingerprint scans are an alternative to physically arresting someone who is in the country illegally but doesn’t stand out as a priority. In the past, officers used the scans to place undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings without a formal arrest, Arnold said.
Arnold added that doesn’t think ICE will suddenly target noncriminals.
“The priorities are still going to be the same priorities, criminals first,” he said. “But what the president’s executive order did do, it returned discretion to arrest and not to arrest to the line-level officer. … If they encounter someone who’s here illegally, they have the authority and discretion to arrest them, period.”
Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.
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