The First Months of Immigration Policy-& What's to Come

So, we’ve just passed the first six months of the Trump administration’s aggressive crackdown on undocumented immigrants nationwide. What changes have we seen in immigration policy? How has our nation altered our stance regarding our undocumented neighbors? What’s to come next?

This blog will attempt to answer some of those questions.

What’s Has Happened to ICE & Our Undocumented Immigrants

In general, Immigration & Customs Enforcement has reached unprecedented levels of expanded targeting, resources, and geographic spread. The result of many of these policies have yet to be fully-realized, but initial findings are showing these policies for what they are: shows of “strength” that do more harm than good. Instead of good policy, the White House is intent on following through on their “tough-on-immigration” promise, regardless of the cost.

#1: The End of Obama-Era Prioritization

Obama-era policy prioritized undocumented criminals and violent offenders over law-abiding immigrants. This allowed ICE to focus limited resources on individuals who were threats to public safety, offering some security to long-time residents who have been models of good behavior. The end of these policies has led to ICE agents arresting any undocumented immigrants they encounter during an investigation or enforcement action.

This has led to situations like ICE agents arresting three restaurant workers when they encountered them by chance while eating breakfast. In another case, a father was arrested while on the way to pick up his sick child from the hospital.

This has led to:

  • 40% more immigration-related arrests
  • 75% more issued detainers (more below)
  • 59 agreements with local law enforcement in 18 states

On the Subject of Detainers

ICE can issue a detainer to local law enforcement when an immigrant (suspected to be undocumented) has been arrested for any offense. The detainer is essentially a request to keep the suspect in custody until his or her immigration history can be investigated—sometimes for up to two days. With detainers, a suspect’s arrest could be entirely resolved (bail is posted, charges are dropped, etc.), but a detainer would keep them in custody until ICE could send an agent to pick them up.

The detainer requires no proof—only reasonable suspicion that the suspect is undocumented. In other words, a detainer can keep an immigrant in custody for two days despite being otherwise free to go.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that detainers used in this way are unlawful. According to their ruling (issued July 24, 2017), suspects cannot be held solely on the power of a detainer. Former AILA chapter head Susan Church believes this ruling could provide a roadmap for other states to rule against detainers.

#2: Tight Partnerships with Local Law Enforcement

In recent months, ICE has been forming stronger ties with local law enforcement to assist with finding or holding undocumented immigrants. Thus far, ICE has 59 agreements with local agencies in 18 states that give them greater reach and resources to immigration enforcement. In coming months, they’ll be increasing their efforts to partner with locals to root out undocumented individuals.

However, some law enforcement agencies have been rebuffing such efforts—the Los Angeles Chief of Police has recently said that ICE policies are damaging public safety by making undocumented immigrants afraid to come forward as victims or witnesses of crimes. This has made it harder to arrest and prosecute genuine threats to public safety—ironically, all in the name of public safety.

What’s Next for Immigration Policy?

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a White House budget proposal for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. Looking at the specific items on the budget proposal make it clear that this proposal revolves around even more stringent immigration enforcement.

Some of the budget items include:

  • $1.6 billion for construction of the border wall
  • $7.9 billion for ICE resources and personnel
  • Resources for hiring 500 additional Border Patrol agents

The ICE budget is a $1.2 billion boost from last year, most of it going toward discretionary spending. This spending is planned to be spent on raising the number of detention beds nationwide to 44,000—an increase from the current number of 34,000. The money would also go toward hiring and training 1,000 new ICE officers.

Money was also approved for the Department of Justice to hire hundreds of additional staffing to aid with increased immigration efforts. Money has been proposed for hiring 65 new immigration judges and support staff, bringing the national total to 449. If the budget is approved in the House and the Senate, then the DOJ will also hire more U.S. attorneys to prosecute immigration offenses, plus 20 attorneys for eminent domain cases along the southern border to facilitate construction of the wall.

As far as policy, ICE wants to expand the scope of “expedited removal.” Expedited removal allows ICE to quickly remove offenders who have entered the United States unlawfully in the last two weeks and are located within 100 miles of the border. The narrow scope of the policy makes sense—14 days of residence and relative nearness to the border means removal is unlikely to be unnecessary harsh or require the stripping of any rights.

ICE, however, wants to expand the time period from two weeks to two years, and expand the geographic reach to the entire United States.

In addition, closed immigration cases will be reopened now that no cases are being prioritized—and all cases are being targeted equally. This will eat up the court resources already stretched thin due to increased enforcement. Check-ins with ICE will also become increasingly risky for undocumented individuals, as ICE has started arresting people who voluntarily appear at their offices.

The imminent loss of the DACA initiative may also put an additional 800,000 undocumented immigrants under ICE’s scope—all of whom are lifelong, U.S.-raised residents. In addition, there is also a rumor that the President may end the Temporary Protected Status program for El Salvador and Honduran nationals. This could affect over 250,000 TPS holders.

In short, unless immigration reform is passed, Trump’s immigration policy will do unprecedented harm to the undocumented population in communities all over the United States.