WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly instructed immigration authorities on Tuesday to step up enforcement toward immigrants in this country illegally in line with two executive orders that President Donald Trump signed during his first week in office.
With the goal of “faithfully executing the immigration laws,” Kelly issued two memos that would continue Trump’s campaign promise to reverse policies enacted by President Barack Obama that weakened federal immigration enforcement.
One Kelly memo directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire 10,000 more officers and agents, prioritize the deportation of removable immigrants convicted of crimes and restore the Secure Communities program, which directs local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE.
By restoring Secure Communities, Kelly has put “sanctuary cities” on notice that they are expected to honor ICE requests to detain immigrants here illegally for an additional 48 hours to provide federal officials time to decide whether to take an individual into federal custody for removal.
A second memo called for the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents and ordered an end to “catch and release” policies that allowed immigrants at the border “to abscond and fail to appear at their removal hearings.”
Kelly cited the increase of border apprehensions in October and November 2016 — around 93,000, as opposed to 65,000 in 2015 — as a significant strain on government resources. “There are more than 534,000 cases currently pending on immigration court dockets nationwide — a record high.”
The memos do not change U.S. immigration laws, but they take a harder line toward enforcement.
For example, any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged with or convicted of any offense will now be an enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for minor offenses — or simply having crossed the border illegally.
Under the Obama administration guidance, immigrants whose only violation was being in the country illegally were generally left alone.
In a statement, Angelica Salas of the Coalition of Humane Rights in Los Angeles, which opposes full enforcement of immigration law, said that Kelly had “unleashed an unprecedented witch hunt on millions of immigrant families” with “a one-size-fits-all mass deportation approach full of punishment, completely void of fairness and justice.”
However, Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, applauded the Trump effort, saying the memos “overturn dangerous” policies from the Obama administration.
Asked at Tuesday’s press briefing if the administration’s goal was mass deportation — or to tell immigrants here illegally who have not committed crimes “not to worry” — White House spokesman Sean Spicer replied that the message is that, if they are a threat to others or have committed a crime, they “will be the first to go.”
Those who don’t want Trump to enforce immigration legislation, Spicer offered, should change the law. “At some point, laws are laws, and if people have a problem with the law,” they should work to change the language on the books.
The Obama White House unilaterally supported sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with ICE. In 2010, the Department of Justice opposed an Arizona measure to make breaking federal immigration law a state crime.
The Trump administration has taken the opposite tack with a memo that allows a state or local law enforcement official to be designated “an immigration officer.”
Kelly also directed ICE to issue weekly reports that would be made available to the public with information on immigrants released by local law enforcement authorities who declined to honor ICE detainer requests. Jessica Vaughan of the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies described that provision “as potentially as powerful a weapon as the threat to cut off federal funding” to sanctuary cities.
In line with recent Trump statements, Kelly did not challenge the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) administrative orders signed by Obama. Those orders temporarily exempt immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors and parents of children who are American citizens or lawful residents from deportation.
As a candidate in 2016, Trump said he would reverse those Obama orders, but after meeting with Obama prior to assuming office, Trump has stepped back from his campaign position. “We’re going to show great heart,” Trump told reporters last week. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.
“I love kids. I have kids and grandkids,” Trump added. “And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.