DHS has decided to prioritize the removal of all undocumented or out of status aliens, with the exception of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, in a February 17, 2017 memo from the DHS Secretary John Kelly, entitled “Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest”. This means that there are basically no priorities, that any foreign person who is out of status or illegally in the U.S. is a priority.
The memo is based upon President Trump’s executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”, which prioritizes the deportation and removal of “all removable aliens”, meaning that the administration has no priorities, and rather than focusing resources on criminal aliens, is equally spending time and tax payers’ money on hunting down each and every undocumented person, most of them hard-working contributors to the economy and the spouses, parents and children of families who also have U.S. citizen and permanent resident family members.
The memo anticipates a vast expansion of the number of undocumented or out of status immigrants being held in private prisons, local or county jails, and other detention facilities, which will result in a tremendous increase in taxpayers’ dollars being used to fund the imprisonment and removal of people here in the U.S. who are just working hard and making a better life for their children, but who happed to be undocumented or have some violation of their status. While the memo briefly gives lip service to prioritizing criminal aliens, DHS’s idea of criminal alien includes anyone arrested for any minor offense, who has not been convicted. This would include, for example, permanent residents arrested for minor offenses. This would also include people who are not criminals, but who have a criminal record due to arrests for immigration-related offenses, such as entering the U.S. illegally.
DHS plans to hire 10,000 additional deportation officers, as well as additional operational, support and legal staff for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). DHS is reinstating the Secure Communities program, whereby local law enforcement officers, such as regular city police officers, would enforce the immigration laws and make arrests for immigration violations. ICE and CBP are to expand the 287(g) program to include all law enforcement agencies that request to participate.
The memo limits the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to not initiate removal proceedings or not deport someone, by requiring that only the heads of local ICE or CBP agencies can approve the use of prosecutorial discretion (PD) on a case-by-case basis. So, only a very high-level official, such as the ICE Field Office Director, or Service Center Director, would be able approve an exercise of PD. This means that ICE will virtually stop exercising prosecutorial discretion, and that government resources will be spent on trying to deport each and every immigrant in the U.S. who is removable.
In another memo issued by DHS Secretary John Kelly at the same time, “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement Policy”, DHS plans to apply expedited removal, meaning summary removal with no hearing in front of the immigration judge, to all undocumented or out of status immigrants who cannot prove that they have been living in the U.S. for at least two years before being arrested and to those found anywhere in the U.S., rather than only those trying to enter the US at the border.
It also restricts the ability of people at the border to apply for asylum, and plans to return asylum applicants to Mexico, where they would have their asylum hearings via video teleconference. This would violate U.S. law as well as our treaty obligations to provide a meaningful opportunity for asylum applicants to present their cases. This also places many vulnerable women and children at risk of violence and other harm should they have to wait in the border areas of Mexico for a hearing.
DHS redefines the definition of “unaccompanied alien child”, which will deny defenseless children their rights under the Immigration and Nationality Act, federal regulations and the U.S. Constitution, as well as deny them protections under the Trafficking Victim Protection and Reauthorization Act and the Homeland Security Act.
The memo does not discuss how DHS will obtain the funding for its mass-incarceration policy. Additionally, once the government detains masses of immigrants, it is unclear how it will be able to pay for additional immigration judges, DHS ICE attorneys and other staff to provide hearings for these individuals. This would lead to an exponential increase in immigrants being detained indefinitely without a hearing before the immigration judge, violating their due process rights and the US Constitution. The memo does not create any exceptions to incarceration for vulnerable people, such as the disabled, children, elderly or pregnant women.
During fiscal year 2016, DHS spent about $3.3 billion on detention and removal of immigrants. Of this, $2.317 billion was spent on imprisoning removable immigrants, most of whom are not criminals. This has been a windfall to two huge private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group. It costs the US tax payers about $161.36 per day to incarcerate women and children who are guilty of no offense, except that of wanting to seek refuge in the United States from the overwhelming violence in Central America. Can you imagine how much more of our hard-earned taxpayers dollars will go to funding the imprisonment of immigrants once the new DHS memos are implemented? It has been estimated that the total costs of arresting and deporting the undocumented in the U.S. would be $285 billion.
This is in conflict with the Trump administration’s purported concern to reduce the federal budget and lower taxes. According to a recent press release by the White House, in discussing the federal government budge, Donald Trump stated “We’re going to be spending the money in a very, very careful manner. Our moral duty to the taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable. We must do a lot more with less.”
Not only will it be incredibly expensive in terms of tax dollars, it will destroy the fabric of many communities and families in the U.S., tearing husband from wife, and parents from their children. It is in conflict with our American values of welcoming immigrants, welcoming those fleeing persecution in their home countries, compassionate treatment of vulnerable populations such as women, children and the disabled, and providing due process to all persons within our borders. Moreover, the United States already has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, as the U.S. already incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents. Why would we want to dramatically expand our incarceration rate? Are we to become a country most known for our excessive number of police and prisons, rather than our beloved freedoms?