By Miriam Raftery
February 23, 2017 (San Diego) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secretary John F. Kelly has signed sweeping new guidelines that dramatically expand powers of federal authorities to detain and deport many more undocumented immigrants than in the past – including some who have never been arrested or convicted of any crime.
Cases in recent days appear to contradict official statements on who will be targeted and in some cases, are clearly inhumane. In Texas, a mother with children was forcibly removed by federal agents from a hospital where she as awaiting brain surgery and transported to a detention center.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told ECM that in San Diego, an 18-year-old with no criminal record or gang affiliations has been detained and ordered deported. His younger siblings born here are citizens, so this has torn the family apart.
Yet Secretary Kelly’s official statement claims that the recent enforcement operations “targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated the nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges.’
Kelly’s memos allow deportation not only of those convicted of crimes, but also people arrested or merely suspected of illegal actions, including those as minor as receiving a traffic ticket. Even those whose only crime was crossing the border illegally would now be targeted for deportation. The U.S. has an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and the orders have stricken fear across immigrant communities.
The order also calls for hiring thousands more enforcement agents, though that would require Congressional approval for spending. In addition, Kelly seeks to speed up deportation hearings and enlist local law enforcement agencies to make arrests.
The plans do not call for deportation of “dreamers,” young people brought to the U.S. as minors, leaving in place President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that protects about 750,000 young people, at least for now. Trump said on the campaign trail that he would immediately deport the dreamers, but has since pulled back on that pledge, at least temporarily, after vocal objections were raised.
The orders also call for dumping deportees from Central America into Mexico while awaiting deportation hearings, instead of detaining them in the U.S. It is far from clear whether Mexico will agree to accept non-Mexican deportees, however.
Deportations are leaving some in despair. Yesterday, a man deported to Mexico for the sixth time apparently jumped off a bridge and killed himself within an hour after being deported by the U.S. The Los Angeles Times reported that the man had worked as a gardener in the U.S. to support his children after his wife died. Those deported are often unable to work in Mexico, lacking papers, and thus have no means of support so suicide rates are high among deportees, according to the Times article.
Department of Homeland Security officials have said an AP report that National Guard troops would be activate to apprehend immigrants in 11 states is not accurate and that Kelly had not approved that action.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sought to justify the orders this way: “The president wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say, "You have a mission. There are laws that need to be followed. You should do your mission and follow the law."
Trump has sought to justify the huge expenditure of hiring thousands of new enforcement officers plus increased detention and court costs by claiming immigrant has increased, though in fact illegal immigration rates have stabilized over the past several years and Mexican immigration has been declining since 2009, according to Pew Research in 2016. Thus targeting Mexicans for deportation when immigration is already on the decline seems to make little economic sense.
American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel Joanne Lin issued a statement indicating that “due process, human decency and common sense are treated as inconvenient obstacles on the path to mass deportation. The Trump administration is intent on inflicting cruelty on millions of immigrant families across the country.”
In San Diego, a “no ban, no wall” rally and march to the county administration building on February 18 drew thousands of protesters opposed to Trump’s actions, also calling for San Diego to declare itself a sanctuary city. Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher spoke on SB 52, the California Values Act that would declare California a sanctuary state if enacted. While sanctuary status does not guarantee that federal authorities can’t deport people, it would prevent state and local authorities from cooperating in such actions.
The rally drew a broad spectrum of participants including many Latino and Muslim people. “This is what brings people together,” said Mohamed Abdallah, an organizer. “This is how we come together as one.”
Secretary Kelly statement on recent ICE enforcement actions (ICE press release)
5 facts about illegal immigration (Pew Research)
Undocumented woman with brain tumor removed from hospital and tied up (Huffington Post)
No Ban, No Wall Rally Draws Thousands (Reporting San Diego)
Did a Mexican migrant leap to his death at the border minutes after deportation? (Los Angeles Times)