President Donald Trump is making good on his campaign promise to take a hard line against illegal immigration. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released two memos that detailed the steps the government will take against undocumented immigrants, sparking fears of "mass deportations."
This isn't to say that America's policy to date on deporting undocumented immigrants has been particularly lax. President Barack Obama deported more than 2.4 million undocumented immigrants during his tenure — more than any of his predecessors.
But those numbers are slated to increase substantially under Trump. Here are the key ways Tuesday's DHS memos will affect the country's existing policies:
Expanded scope of targeted immigrants
The new immigration policy, a fact sheet released by the DHS explains, means that no undocumented immigrant is safe from the threat of deportation.
"DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement," the fact sheet reads. "All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States."
As it did under Obama, the DHS notes that it will prioritize those who have committed crimes. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are 820,000 undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, out of 1.9 million total legal and undocumented non-citizens who are eligible for removal based on a criminal conviction. Immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens, the New York Times reported in January.
But these 820,000 criminal immigrants make up a small subset of the approximately 11.1 million total undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, and are overwhelmingly located in just 20 major metropolitan areas, with the largest populations centered in Los Angeles, New York and Houston.
Obama's policy, however, was explicit in specifically prioritizing more serious crimes, and 2016 ICE statistics reveal that 92% of "interior removals" (as opposed to near a border or port of entry) were individuals who had been previously convicted of a crime.
Trump's new policy, however, takes a much broader view. According to one of the DHS memos, ICE will now prioritize individuals who have been convicted of, or charged with "any criminal offense," as well as those who have "abused any program related to public benefits" — a broad category that could potentially apply to any undocumented immigrant who has participated in a government program.
"Based on those memos, everybody [who is undocumented] is a target; there's no longer prosecutorial discretion," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Daily News. "And they're expanding their forces all out in order to detain and deport as many people as possible, with the possibility of over 8 million people being ... part of this dragnet."
It also remains to be seen how the Trump administration's new policies will affect DACA program recipients, who have already been targeted despite the Trump administration's pledge to not deport them. Many are also concerned the expanded targeting will affect the existing "sensitive locations memo," which restricts ICE officers from targeting people at schools, hospitals and churches.
Restricting undocumented immigrants' rights
Under the new Trump directive, undocumented immigrants now have fewer rights when it comes to their privacy and right to due process.
The Trump administration's policy will make it easier for ICE officials to speedily remove immigrants from the country without the benefit of legal proceedings. "Expedited removals," which allow officials to deport immigrants without due process, were limited under the Obama administration to those who were within 100 miles of the border and had been in the country for no more than two weeks.
This program will now be expanded under Trump, and will now apply to any undocumented individual who has been in the country continuously for less than two years, with some exceptions.
Additionally, the DHS memo takes aim at previous Privacy Act protections that were extended to undocumented immigrants, which the memo claims have left victims of immigrant-committed crimes "feeling marginalized and without a voice." The new directive establishes the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office within the Office of the Director of ICE, which will liaise directly with victims to make sure they receive information about the immigrants who have committed crimes against them. The new office will be paid for using existing funds from outreach and advocacy services for undocumented immigrants, which will be abolished.
Increased enforcement troops
The new memos also detail fresh efforts to enlist more officials in finding undocumented immigrants. The department, the memos reveal, plans to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents, 500 air and marine agents and 10,000 ICE officers and agents to handle the department's increased workload.
Additionally, the Trump administration will expand the 287(g) program, which gives state and local officers the authority to perform the duties of a federal immigration officer in their jurisdiction. The program, however, will likely face opposition in "sanctuary cities," such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, in which local authorities refuse to aid federal officials in targeting and detaining undocumented immigrants. Federal courts, the Washington Post notes, have traditionally ruled in favor of these cities' rights to treat federal immigration requests as voluntary.
"When you tell state and local police that their job is to do immigration enforcement, it translates into the unwarranted and illegal targeting of people because of their race, because of their language, because of the color of their skin," Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, told the New York Times.
Increased detention facilities
Once immigrants have been successfully targeted and caught by ICE officials, the new DHS directives will also expand how these immigrants are detained — or where they'll be deported to.
Trump said during his campaign he specifically would not use detention centers to detain undocumented immigrants. "I've never even heard the term," the then-candidate told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
The DHS fact sheet stipulates that detention centers will now be expanded "to the greatest extent practicable." Once detained, the fact sheet notes that immigrants will only be released under "limited circumstances," such as leaving the country, if they're found to be a lawful immigrant or refugee or when required to do so by a judicial order. The DHS memos, however, prove that was an empty promise.
Even once they're out of the U.S., undocumented immigrants may not return to their country of origin. While immigrants are currently detained in the U.S. as they await legal proceedings, and are allowed to apply in the U.S. for asylum, ProPublica notes, the new directives stipulate that immigrants will be removed to the "foreign contiguous territory from which they arrived" — in other words, Mexico. For many immigrants, this means they won't be deported to their country of origin, as many from other Central American countries arrive through the U.S./Mexico border.
It's not clear how viable this idea would actually be, however. The American Immigration Lawyers Association told ProPublica that the directive would violate international treaty obligations and U.S. law, and Mexican officials told the New York Times that Mexican laws could be violated as well. Immigration officials also told ProPublica that the move could result in increased tensions along the U.S./Mexico border, as "unwanted migrants" from other Central American countries were pushed back and forth.
Crucially, the directive would also depend on the cooperation of Mexico itself — who, as shown by its response to Trump's border wall proposal, isn't the biggest fan of his administration's policies.
"I would expect Mexico to respond with an emphatic 'No,'" Gustavo Mohar, a former senior Mexican immigration and national security policy official, told ProPublica.
Americans, too, are expected to put up a fight when it comes to Trump's attack on the country's undocumented immigrants.
"These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy," Jadwat said in a statement on behalf of the ACLU.
"However, President Trump does not have the last word here — the courts and the public will not allow this un-American dream to become reality."