Immigration

Reality check: A Q & A on President Trump’s immigration crackdown

Day laborers, some of whom are undocumented immigrants looking to work, scramble for jobs offered by contractors coming to Home Depot to pick up workers early Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
Day laborers, some of whom are undocumented immigrants looking to work, scramble for jobs offered by contractors coming to Home Depot to pick up workers early Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Here, in question-and-answer format, are highlights from executive orders and guidelines on immigration issued since President Donald Trump took office Jan. 20:

QUESTION: Are immigration officials planning random raids or mass deportations of deportable foreign nationals?

ANSWER: No. Immigration officials are stepping up targeted operations that involve showing up at the homes of people whose names appear on lists of immigrants convicted of crimes or who have absconded from deportation orders. Foreign nationals may also encounter immigration officials if taken to a county lockup.

Q: Besides immigration, government offices and jails, where else could foreign nationals draw scrutiny?

A: Airport passport control lines, border ports of entry, marinas and seaports — virtually anywhere immigration officers operate, including marinas.

READ MORE: Amid climate of fear from Trump orders, life goes on for the undocumented

Q: Under former President Barack Obama, immigration officials largely focused on deporting immigrants convicted of serious crimes, while shielding from removal immigration law violators who had no criminal record. What will the priorities be now?

A: Immigration officials will no longer exempt any classes of immigrants deemed deportable. “All of those in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines.

Q: Why can’t immigration officials deport the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the country?

A: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has limited detention space and cannot hold foreign nationals indefinitely. In November, DHS put the number of foreign detainees awaiting deportation at about 41,000. Since Trump took office, DHS has increased its detention capacity by 1,100 beds, but even that is not enough given the almost one million immigrants with final deportation orders still in the country. The second problem is a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that orders the release of a foreign national after six months, unless deportation can be achieved within a “reasonably foreseeable” period of time. This is often impossible because some of their home countries refuse to take them back. Experts estimate the cost of operating the detention centers at about $2 billion per year.

Q: How would these limitations impact the decision to end the “catch-and-release” practice under which non-Mexican foreign nationals caught at or near the U.S.-Mexican border are briefly held, put in deportation proceedings and then released with a promise — often not kept — to appear later at immigration court for deportation proceedings?

A: American immigration officials have hit on a possible solution: detain non-Mexican illegal border crossers, put them in deportation proceedings and then return them to Mexico to await court hearings with a promise they can come back if an immigration judge allows them to stay in the United States. The problem: Mexico says it will not allow the United States to send non-Mexicans back to Mexico to await deportation hearings.

Q: Under Obama, immigration officers generally did not conduct operations in so-called sensitive locations, such as schools, places of worship or hospitals. Will this policy change?

A: No. “The sensitive locations guidance remains in effect,” according to DHS.

Q: What about the 750,000 young immigrants accorded temporary protection against deportation under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program? Will that be rescinded?

A: No. DACA will remain in effect, but the guidance has not rendered all DACA recipients immune from detention. At least two DACA beneficiaries have been arrested since Trump signed his executive orders. One was accused of gang membership, which he denied, and the other of possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Q: Will foreign nationals still be able to apply for asylum?

A: Yes. But new guidelines indicate immigration officials want to speed up and tighten the process. The number of asylum officers and immigration judges will be increased so they can screen applicants more quickly, and expedite their deportation if they don’t seek asylum. In 2013, the House Judiciary Committee found examples of asylum abuse, including two women who asked for asylum and later were detained by the Border Patrol carrying more than $1 million in cocaine; and a former Mexican soldier who claimed fear of persecution but was later linked to more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana.

Q: Will credible fear of persecution remain a key test of whether an arriving immigrant is put on a track to asylum?

A: Yes, but immigration officials have indicated they will toughen credible fear rules. “The goal,” DHS guidelines say, “is to ensure the asylum process is not abused.”

Q: What is VOICE?

A: In his speech to Congress Tuesday, Trump said his administration will create an office to assist the families of Americans who have been killed or harmed by people he described as “illegal immigrants.” The office would be called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE. The website of the immigration control group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates at more than 600 the number of serious crimes, including murder, blamed on undocumented immigrants between 2004 and 2017.

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