[2/4/17] When President Trump ordered a vast overhaul of immigration law enforcement during his first week in office, he stripped away most restrictions on who should be deported, opening the door for roundups and detentions on a scale not seen in nearly a decade.
Up to 8 million people in the country illegally could be considered priorities for deportation, according to calculations by the Los Angeles Times. They were based on interviews with experts who studied the order and two internal documents that signal immigration officials are taking an expansive view of Trump’s directive.
Far from targeting only “bad hombres,” as Trump has said repeatedly, his new order allows immigration agents to detain nearly anyone they come in contact with who has crossed the border illegally. People could be booked into custody for using food stamps or if their child receives free school lunches.
The deportation targets are a much larger group than those swept up in the travel bans that sowed chaos at airports and seized public attention over the past week. Fewer than 1 million people came to the U.S. over the past decade from the seven countries from which most visitors are temporarily blocked.
Deportations of this scale, which has not been publicly totaled before, could have widely felt consequences: Families would be separated. Businesses catering to immigrant customers may be shuttered. Crops could be left to rot, unpicked, as agricultural and other industries that rely on immigrant workforces face labor shortages. U.S. relations could be strained with countries that stand to receive an influx of deported people, particularly in Latin America. Even the Social Security system, which many immigrants working illegally pay into under fake identification numbers, would take a hit.
The new instructions represent a wide expansion of President Obama’s focus on deporting only recent arrivals, repeat immigration violators and people with multiple criminal violations. Under the Obama administration, only about 1.4 million people were considered priorities for removal.
“We are going back to enforcement chaos — they are going to give lip service to going after criminals, but they really are going to round up everybody they can get their hands on,” said David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. and an immigration lawyer for more than two decades.
Trump’s orders instruct officers to deport not only those convicted of crimes, but also those who aren’t charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
That category applies to the 6 million people believed to have entered the U.S. without passing through an official border crossing. The rest of the 11.1 million people in the country illegally, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, are believed to have entered on a valid visa and stayed past its expiration date.
Also among those 11.1 million are about 8 million jobholders, Pew found. The vast majority have worked in violation of the law by stating on federal employment forms that they were legally allowed to work. Trump’s order calls for targeting anyone who lied on the forms.
Trump’s deportation priorities also include smaller groups whose totals remain elusive: people in the country illegally who are charged with crimes that have not yet been adjudicated and those who receive an improper welfare benefit, used a fake identity card, were found driving without a license or received federal food assistance.
An additional executive order under consideration would block entry to anyone the U.S. believes may use benefit programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according two Trump administration officials who have seen the draft order.
The changes reflect an effort to deter illegal migration by increasing the threat of deportation and cutting off access to social services and work opportunities, an approach that 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called “self-deportation.”
The White House insisted that it is intent on rooting out those who endanger Americans. Trump aides pointed to 124 people who were released from immigration custody from 2010 to 2015 who went on to be charged with murder, according to immigration data provided to Congress by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s not that 6 million people are priorities for removal, it is the dangerous criminals hiding among those millions who are no longer able to hide,” said a White House official who would not be named describing internal policy debates.
“We’ve gone from a situation where ICE officers have no discretion to enhance public safety and their hands are totally tied, to allowing ICE officers to engage in preventative policing and to go after known public safety threats and stop terrible crimes from happening.”