The memos signed by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly released Tuesday make sweeping changes to immigration enforcement policies, making the possibility of mass deportations of immigrants in the country without permission more likely, activists said Tuesday.
Calling the changes an effort to “enhance public safety,” Kelly’s memos put in place guidelines aimed at beefing up Pres. Donald Trump’s earlier executive actions on immigration, building on his campaign promise to deport millions of immigrants in the country illegally. Trump’s order said, “Aliens who illegally enter the United States without inspection or admission present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”
In a dramatic change from the Obama Administration, not only will undocumented immigrants convicted of violent crimes be subject to deportation, so will those deemed to have “abused” public benefit programs or who “pose a risk to public or national security” in the judgment of an immigration officer.
Any unauthorized immigrant even suspected of a crime could be deported under the new rules.
The orders also call for beefing up the ranks of enforcement authorities by adding 10,000 more Immigration and Custom, or ICE officers, as well as 5,000 more border patrol agents and 500 Air & Marine Agents/Officers, but congress would first have to approve funding for the new hires.
During a telephone press conference Tuesday, Jen Smyers, Associate Director for the Immigration and Refugee Policy for Church World Service, called the implementation of the memos unprecedented and unconceivable.
“All three of these executive actions go against our core values as Americans and that is why we are calling on congress to stop these memos through the appropriations process,” Smyers said.
Local advocacy groups such as The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA), one of the areas in California most affected by recent immigration raids, labeled the newly announced measures a “deeply troubling development.”
“Secretary Kelly has unleashed an unprecedented witch hunt on millions of immigrant families …We are categorically opposed to these measures which threaten our families, hurt our nation’s economy, and stand directly opposite to our nation’s history and values,” said CHRILA Executive Director Angelica Salas in a press statement.
The Trump Administration has however decided to leave the Deferred Action Program (DACA) program created in 2012 by Obama intact.
Under DACA, about 750,000 people brought to the country illegally as children were granted a reprieve from deportation and allowed to get work permits. These undocumented youths or “dreamers” as they are often called, will remain “unaffected,” at least for now, by the federal agency’s new orders.
During his daily press briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the goal of these policies, “take the shackles off” and “give more authority to the federal agency to enforce immigration laws.” He emphasized that “anyone who is here illegally can be deported at any time.”
That scares Maritza Garcia.
The Inglewood resident and mother of two U.S. born children is a DACA recipient but her husband and brother are in the country without permission or any form of protection.
Her husband Carlos and brother Tomás were brought to the U.S. as children, at ages 8 and 9 respectively, but neither of the men, now in their late 20s, applied for DACA protection, fearing one-time misdemeanor convictions in their teens for drug possession would make them targets for deportation.
“They were young and stupid, but they have never gotten in trouble again,” Garcia said. “My husband and brother both work construction jobs, they support us,” she said. “If they get deported it will hurt my kids, all of us,” she told EGP by telephone.
Under the new guidelines, her fears are not without merit.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, said “The administration’s immigration executive orders will have serious negative consequences for our country, ripping apart families and crippling our economy.”
She said the country should be working on reforming our “broken immigration system,” and “focusing on deporting those who are a threat to our country, not on those who are contributing members of our communities.”
Petra Falcon, Executive Director of Promise Arizona, PAZ (part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement), said during the telephone press conference that her organization has witnessed a change in morale within the immigrant communities they serve.
“Families are beginning to save money and are continuing to send their children to school but are paying close attention to the news and going to our offices to ask for help,” Falcon said.
In Los Angeles, groups like CHIRLA are also being proactive, educating the immigrant community through “Know Your Rights” sessions and by offering counseling services.
“We have been anticipating this,” said CHRILA’s political director, Apolonio Morales. He said the group has been holding “informational sessions to ensure folks understand that if they are detained they still have to go through their due process. They have rights to an attorney, to speak to family members … and don’t need to sign anything before speaking to a lawyer,” Morales said.
Morales also advises the community to stay alert and to demand to be told whether the official knocking at their door id an LAPD officer, or really an ICE agent.
“We’ve already seen ICE knocking on doors saying they’re police … so people open their doors and end up getting deported. We need to know that the distinction is being made clear,” Morales said.
On Saturday, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon is hosting a “Know Your Rights!” informative forum that will offer free consultations with immigration attorneys. It will be held at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College - South Tent from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
For more information you contact his district office at (213) 483-9300 or visit their page here.
Information from EFE and City News Service used in this report.