As previously reported, two significant Executive Orders were signed by President Trump in January, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” and “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” which are now being implemented. During the last several weeks, various immigration-related agencies announced a myriad of plans that range from construction of the border wall, to hiring more ICE and CBP employees, to ramping up domestic enforcement actions. While some plans still remain vague, the daily barrage of domestic immigration enforcement developments has created a general feeling of anxiety for noncitizens. For some, their future prospects in the United States are extremely bleak, as safe havens shrink and legal avenues for relief from deportation disappear. Nonimmigrants also are anxious as their visa options may become increasing difficult to secure. Meanwhile, the court cases hearing the travel ban are ongoing, meaning foreign nationals of certain countries identified by President Trump may still confront barriers to admission.
Enforcement Priorities Vacated: Now All Undocumented Are Effectively Targets
Interior enforcement numbers have spiked after President Trump’s removal of enforcement priorities. There have been anecdotal cases of legal residents and DACA recipients being apprehended, but more alarming is the number of people who have no criminal record whatsoever who are being detained. Moreover, ICE is no longer limiting arrest to the person identified in a warrant – now everyone without status in the vicinity of an enforcement action is equally at risk. And, ICE has been showing up at courthouses and USCIS offices with increasing regularity, making foreign nationals eligible for benefits less likely to apply for them.
Down on the Southern Border
The President is still talking about a wall on the Southern border, and there have been steps taken on construction. This will be a monumental undertaking and it would be up to Congress to appropriate funds for the project on a continuing basis. However, apprehensions of people illegally crossing the border are already down by roughly 60 percent. Such a drop in border crossings may cause Congress to lose interest in providing funding for the wall in the upcoming months and years, but construction has started on a border wall prototype that is scheduled to be completed this summer. If Congress grants more funding, the Rio Grande and San Diego areas will likely be targeted first.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed federal prosecutors to make immigration cases a higher priority and look for opportunities to bring serious felony charges against those who cross the border illegally. For example, a felony for multiple illegal entries or aggravated identity theft charges are possibilities that, once pursued, will make it all but impossible for an immigrant to remain in the United States. Sessions also confirmed that the “catch and release” program is no longer viable, meaning that those caught at the border will remain in detention until their cases are heard, absent extenuating circumstances.
ICE and Border Patrol Expanding Their Workforce
Under the Executive Orders, ICE is required to hire an additional 10,000 officers and the Border Patrol 5,000. How these agencies will accomplish this remains to be seen. In fact, ICE has already announced that it will lower its standards for its new hires. It will not require polygraph testing and it will reduce physical fitness requirements. The Border Patrol, in contrast, has not made such pronouncements, and expects to only be able to hire new agents after thorough vetting and field training. However, federal hiring processes are notoriously slow and expensive. A DHS assessment estimated that hiring just 500 new agents would cost $100 million.
“Sanctuary Cities” Being Targeted
Notably aggrieved parties in these enforcement actions include the “sanctuary cities.” From New York to Austin, San Francisco to Baltimore, mayors and local politicians are rallying behind immigrants and refusing to honor detainers issued by ICE. By openly defying the federal government, these state and local entities are testing the core principles of federalism, a political theory upon which the country is built. Also, there is growing pressure on police forces in sanctuary cities to refrain from making arrests for minor violations, as that could lead to a foreign national’s eventual removal. The Trump Administration continues to publish its list of crimes committed by immigrants living in these sanctuary cities as a shaming tactic.
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are willfully cooperating with the Executive Order requesting the assistance of state and local law enforcement with immigration enforcement activities. DHS would like to expand the “287(g)” program that allows these law enforcement officials to assist in pursuing immigration violations. The 287(g) program comes with a price tag as well, and it remains to be determined how many new locales DHS can afford to bring into their program.
Attorney General Expands Program for Foreign Nationals in Detention
Attorney General Sessions is expanding and modernizing the Justice Department’s Institutional Hearing Program. This program allows ICE to bring a criminal alien before an immigration judge while the alien is still incarcerated for their crime. By concluding the removal proceedings while the alien is prison, ICE does not have to transfer them to an immigration detention facility after their release. This program accelerates the removal process.
Cables on Heightened Scrutiny at Consulates
The supposed purpose of a temporary ban on immigration from certain countries was so that the Departments of State (DOS) and Homeland Security (DHS) could develop new vetting procedures to more thoroughly screen visa issuances and incoming foreign nationals for security threats. While the Administration has not publicly set any new vetting procedures, DOS announced that increased vetting and heightened scrutiny of visa applicants would take place. What exactly this means has not been divulged but will inevitably cause delays for visa applicants. Immigrants can expect longer visa wait times, especially during the summer months when consulates and embassies are normally busy.