DHS issues sweeping rules for immigration crackdown

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Tuesday released details on how it will prosecute undocumented immigrants and criminal immigrants under President Trump.

The two memos from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly expand immigration raids and the definition of criminal aliens, while diminishing sanctuary areas and enlisting local law enforcement to execute federal immigration policy.

Under the rules, federal officers will no longer consider any category of "removable alien" as exempt from removal, except for those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started under President Obama.

In a call to explain the policy changes, officials from DHS insisted that they are not seeking to begin a program of mass deportations in the United States.

“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” said DHS official on a press call, according to the Washington Post.

“This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

Yet the memos appear designed to set the stage for an aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration, with law enforcement officials granted new powers to carry out deportations.  

Under the memos, immigration agents in the interior of the country will be able to automatically remove any aliens who cannot prove they have been in the country for more than two years. That power was previously restricted to officers near the borders, so they could quickly detain and remove undocumented immigrants as they entered the country.

"The memo contemplates a massive expansion of people being removed from the country without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom," said Tom Jawetz, the vice president of immigration at the liberal Center for American Progress.

The new regulations also restore programs for local law enforcement to collaborate with federal authorities that were tabled under the Obama administration because of concerns that they violated due process or were a hindrance to local authorities.

The memos bring back two programs, known as Secure Communities and 287(g), which essentially deputize local law enforcement agents as immigration agents and permit longer incarceration of suspected criminal immigrants before being turned over to ICE.

The DHS guidance also makes parents and other adults who help children enter the U.S. illegally potentially subject to deportation or criminal prosecution. 

That policy change is meant to discourage Central American children who make the often-dangerous trek into the country. The number has surged over the past three years, with minors fleeing gang violence in countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. 

Unaccompanied minors who arrive in the U.S. are treated differently under the law than adults; they must be resettled with parents or other adults in the country as they await their immigration cases. 

But the memos from Kelly say the system is being abused. They say 60 percent of unaccompanied minors are placed into the care of one or more parents living illegally in the U.S. 

“Regardless of the desires for family reunification, or conditions in other countries, the smuggling or trafficking of alien children is intolerable,” one of the memos says. 

The document calls for authorities to “ensure the proper enforcement of our immigration laws against those who directly or indirectly facilitate the smuggling or trafficking of alien children into the United States,” including removal or other prosecution. 

The new guidance also suggests some children deemed unaccompanied minors have been wrongly designated and could be subject to faster deportation proceedings. 

The memos are meant to serve as a blueprint for federal officials to put Trump’s immigration directives into place.

The president's January executive orders expanded federal immigration authority, as well as the definition of who could be considered a criminal alien, and cracked down on sanctuary cities.

But the memos from DHS still leave some questions unanswered, such as where to house the undocumented immigrants swept up in raids. 

Agencies are told to “allocate all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities,” but Congress would likely need to appropriate more money to build new detention centers. 

The memos direct immigration enforcement agencies to use detention when starting removal proceedings against an immigrant, instead of giving them a notice to appear in court, which is likely to increase the number of detentions.

In the memos, Kelly does not direct National Guard troops to begin helping arrest immigrants in states on or near U.S. borders. That proposal had been included in a draft document that leaked last week, but it was quickly dismissed by White House officials as something that was never seriously considered.

This story was updated at 1:39 p.m.