Waves of deportations predicted as Trump changes immigration orders

February 21, 2017
Austin American-Statesman

The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released a set of documents translating President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration and border security into policy, bringing a major shift in the way the agency enforces the nation’s immigration laws.

Under the Obama administration, undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were the priority for removal. Now, immigration agents, customs officers and Border Patrol agents have been directed to remove anyone convicted of any criminal offense.

That includes people convicted of fraud in any official matter before a governmental agency and people who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Austin-area immigration supporters call Trump’s policy too wide-ranging, saying it will lead the government to deport more immigrants who have committed minor offenses — or are merely suspected of a crime.

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The change in enforcement priorities will require a considerable increase in resources. With an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally, the government has long had to set narrower priorities, given the constraints on staffing and money.

In the so-called guidance documents released Tuesday, the department is directed to begin the process of hiring 10,000 new immigration and customs agents, expanding the number of detention facilities and creating an office within Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help families of those killed by undocumented immigrants. Trump had some of those relatives address his rallies in the campaign, and several were present when he signed an executive order on immigration last month at the Department of Homeland Security.

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But the officials also made clear that the department intended to aggressively follow Trump’s promise that immigration laws be enforced to the maximum extent possible, marking a significant departure from the procedures in place under President Barack Obama.

That promise has generated fear and anger in the immigrant community, and advocates for immigrants have warned that the new approach is a threat to many undocumented immigrants who had previously been in little danger of being deported.

Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership in Austin, said the changes are scary for the immigrant population.

“Expanding the definition of criminal now puts everyone and anyone at risk for deportation,” he said.