U.S. Politics

Five tough questions for Trump on immigration

Five tough questions for Trump on immigration

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THE HILL

The Trump administration this week released a new set of orders that could greatly increase the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The White House has tamped down suggestions that the guidance will lead to massive deportations, but immigrant communities have been greatly alarmed.

Here are 5 questions surrounding the immigration guidance from Trump’s Department of Homeland Security.

What happens to the “dreamers”?

DHS says the rules don’t touch Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allows high-achieving immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as kids to remain and work without threat of deportation.

But the critics aren’t so sure because the new rules make clear that anyone in the country illegally is subject to removal, even if they’re not specifically targeted.

In a conference call with congressional offices Tuesday, officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said DACA beneficiaries won’t be pursued, per se, “but if a DACA recipient happens to be in the vicinity of another apprehension, that DACA recipient may be apprehended,” a Democratic aide said Thursday, relaying ICE’s message.

“There’s no priority if everyone is prioritized for removal,” the aide said.

At least one such case has already occurred this month in Seattle, where Daniel Ramirez Medina, twice enrolled in DACA, was detained by ICE agents who had come to his home to arrest his father. Ramirez has since sued.

Stephen Legomsky, former chief counsel of at DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services branch, said it’s “anyone’s guess” what the Trump administration will do with DACA.

DHS could end new enrollments but continue the program and renew existing work permits when they expire after two years.

Terminating the program and revoking unexpired work permits “seems unlikely,” Legomsky predicted, because of the legal steps that would be required.

“With more than 700,000 current DACA-holders, that process would be extremely labor-intensive,” said Legomsky, now a professor emeritus at Washington University School of Law.

But Trump is getting plenty of pressure from conservative hardliners to kill the program altogether. And his newly appointed attorney general, former-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), was among its fiercest critics.

Are deportations about to spike?

The new DHS rules, by empowering immigration officials to remove virtually anyone in the country illegally while encouraging the help of local law enforcers, create the potential for a massive spike in deportations. But there’s disagreement about what the practical effect of those changes will be.

One restricting factor mentioned by all sides is that DHS simply doesn’t have the funding to find, process and remove 11 million people.

Still, Democrats and other immigration reform advocates –– who howled when Obama’s deportation numbers rose to a record-setting 435,000 in 2013 –– fear the figure will jump much higher under Trump.

That’s largely because the new rules broadly expand the definition of criminality meriting prioritization to include, not only those convicted of crimes, but also those charged or having “committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” That could mean that anyone admitting after-the-fact to even minor crimes –– say, driving without a license –– could quickly become a target.

Democrats also think Trump’s rhetoric suggests muscle could be placed behind the orders.

While former President George W. Bush also established rules dictating that those merely charged with a crime were prospective ICE targets, he didn’t express an intent to deport 11 million people, the Democratic aide said.

“The way the Trump administration operates, they want big numbers. … They want to show big things, huge things.”

Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, which advocates for a reduction in immigration, said that while Trump is pushing “a very accelerated and assertive deportation effort,” there’s no indication the administration is interested in “mass round-ups.” He expects the focus to be on those who have already been through removal proceedings, but not yet deported, and those who have been convicted of crimes. Combined, Beck puts that number at around 2 million.

“You could do mass deportations very easy. You just start going to the various day-labor cites in any city and you could just sweep up busloads,” he said. “But I do not believe that’s going to be happening.

“I think that we’ll be lucky to see 500,000 people removed this year,” Beck added. “It’s not that easy, when you’re not doing mass roundups.”

Will Congress fund ramped-up enforcement efforts?

Funding has constantly limited the scale of the government’s enforcement efforts, and the trend will almost certainly persist under Trump.

Indeed, ICE’s 2016 budget was $5.9 billion, of which $3.2 billion was dedicated to enforcement and removal operations –– figures that still stand as part of the current continuing resolution (CR).

Republicans last year proposed a slight uptick in 2017 spending for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to cover, among other things, 100 new enforcement priority officers. But that figure pales to the 10,000 new ICE officers Trump wants to hire –– “subject to available resources,” the DHS memo clarifies.

The CBP’s overall budget of $11.3 billion comes nowhere near the funding needed to perform mass deportations. A 2015 analysis conducted by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated the cost to apprehend, detain, process and deport 11 million people would run between $400 billion and $600 billion.

Lawmakers could face pressure to give Trump the resources he needs to make good on his deportation promises, but they will also hear from fiscal hawks who want to rein in deficit spending under a unified GOP government.

Will Mexico cooperate?

Trump’s bellicose approach has soured relations between the U.S. and Mexico — which could cripple the administration’s deportation strategy, which leans heavily on the cooperation of its southern neighbor.

A key part of Trump’s plan involves returning migrants who cross the southern border, regardless of their nationality, back to Mexico to await hearings on their asylum claims. Such cases have spiked in recent years as violence and corruption in Central America have prodded thousands of migrants northward.

Legomsky said Mexico “has no legal obligation to accept the return of the many deportees” from elsewhere, and even deporting Mexicans puts a proof-of-origin burden on U.S. officials.

“Since many arrive without identification, [Mexico] could legitimately refuse to accept many individuals whom the U.S. asserts but can’t prove are Mexican nationals,” he said.

The administration acknowledged in the ICE conference call that DHS does not now have the right to push deportees into Mexico, said the Democratic aide familiar with the conversation. And Mexican leaders have threatened to raise their concerns with the United Nations.

“I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other,” Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, said Wednesday.

A Thursday meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, DHS Secretary John Kelly and Mexican officials did not seem to thaw the ice.

Trump has vowed to use a renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to force Mexico’s hand. But Legomsky warned that Mexico has similar leverage to retaliate, both by adopting punitive import taxes on U.S. goods and by scaling back law enforcement efforts that have stemmed the flow of drug and human trafficking to the U.S. border.

“Given the anti-American sentiment that Trump has already whipped up in Mexico, and the additional anger that mass deportations would engender, any or all of those retaliatory measures are politically realistic,” he said.

Will it backfire on Republicans?

A tough law-and-order approach to immigration was the ballast of Trump’s successful presidential run, and the effort to make good on his campaign promise has energized the conservative base. The strategy is particularly appealing in the white, working class communities that have suffered disproportionately from globalization and flocked to Trump’s vow to put Americans first.

But there are also risks for the Republicans who embrace a strict enforcement strategy, especially if it’s seen to dismantle families within a growing ethnic electorate. Democrats have won the Hispanic vote by an overwhelming margin in the last three presidential cycles, and Republican leaders have scrambled for ways to narrow the divide.

After Obama’s resounding win in 2012, GOP leaders drafted an “autopsy” report which, in part, urged the party to emphasize a tone of “tolerance and respect” toward Hispanic communities. The study was done at the request of Reince Priebus, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee and now Trump’s chief of staff.

Democrats are already pouncing on the new deportation rules as evidence that Republicans have rejected their own advice.

“This is not about smart politics for the Republican Party,” said the Democratic aide. “This is about a small group of ideologues … that are trying to ram through an agenda while the Republicans have the House and the Senate and the presidency.”

MIKE LILLIS

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