Since the Trump administration has taken charge of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, there has been a 150% increase in arrests of non-criminal
undocumented immigrants. It’s an increase that we have reported
on (and protested) at length on our blog and through our law firm’s
involvement in the legal community.
Today, a Pro Publica story reported on a February memo from Matthew Albence,
the head of Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE. This memo may serve
as the root reason that ICE agents have been arresting non-dangerous immigrants
with far less discretion than Obama-era guidelines allowed. In it, Albence
tells 5,700 ICE agents that they “will take enforcement action against
all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”
In contrast, Obama-era guidelines allowed non-criminal arrests to occur
only if the agent’s supervisor found that the arrest served an “important
federal interest.” Now, agents seemingly are seemingly required
to arrest any undocumented immigrants they encounter—regardless
of context or criminal record.
This policy is what led to the arrest of Oscar Miller, who was arrested
when he was about to pick up his newborn son following the baby’s
surgery. Prior to the February memo, agents were able to use their best
judgment regarding people with sick children. The policy has led to dozens
of similar arrests, such as the detainment of three restaurant workers
who were simply doing their job when ICE agents showed up for breakfast
and spotted them. One man voluntarily showed up for a routine check-in
at an ICE office and was arrested.
David Bier, an expert on immigration policy, commented that the memo explains
ICE’s behavior over the last several months. It’s worth noting
that Albence’s memo came the day after Department of Homeland Security
Secretary John Kelly indicated that agents should show discretion regarding
who they arrest—specifically, he said agents
may “initiate enforcement actions,” but may not necessarily do so.
The softer language of Kelly’s statement implies that Albence’s
memo oversteps the intent publicly stated by his direct superior.
Past ICE Directors Weigh In
John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE, said about the recent rash
of arrests, “My concern is that what you end up doing is siphoning
away resources that should go to public safety threats.” Our blog
has previously commented along similar lines, noting that when you commit
thousands of agents to arrest harmless undocumented immigrants throughout
their day, it’s easier for public safety threats to slip through
Sarah Saldana, the most recent former director of ICE, commented that policy
oversteps are corrected by the White House and its appointed officials.
If that’s what this memo is, then Secretary John Kelly would be
the one to stop the ongoing arrests of innocent people. She also believes
that the Trump administration is unlikely to do anything to change current
Non-Criminals Don't Deserve to Be Arrested
Proponents of tougher immigration policies seem to be operating under the
assumption that if you break the immigration law, you "deserve"
to be arrested and deported. In many cases, "tough on illegal immigration"-supporters
equate immigration violations with criminal charges like DUI, assault,
or other serious crimes.
Under our current law, an immigration violation is a
civil violation, not a criminal violation. ICE exists to enforce immigration
law, but widespread arrest of those with civil violations will simply
drive people further underground, tear families apart, and take away hope
for millions of undocumented immigrants. The real answer is to reform
our immigration laws. We call on the President and Congress to take action
to protect the most vulnerable people in our country.