WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Federal authorities would be empowered to immediately deport vastly more unauthorized immigrants as part of a broad crackdown being developed by the Trump administration that would significantly change the way federal agencies enforce immigration laws.
Two draft memos signed Friday by John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general who is secretary of homeland security, outline an aggressive mission for immigration authorities that would rescind policies put in place by President Barack Obama that focused mainly on removing serious criminals.
The directives appear to spare many younger immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, known as Dreamers. But some parents of children who enter unaccompanied could face prosecution under the guidelines.
The approach laid out in the memos, which have not been finalized and are subject to change by the White House, reflects Donald Trump’s campaign promise to harden the border and deport people who entered the United States illegally. He has returned to that theme in recent days: At a rally Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, Trump highlighted a recent spate of deportations and characterized those being sent out of the country as dangerous criminals.
“We will have strong borders again,” he told supporters, who cheered robustly. “You’ve seen it on television. General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, he’s really doing the job. You’re seeing it. The gang members — bad, bad people. I said it Day 1. And they’re going out, or they’re being put in prison. But for the most part, get them the hell out of here. Bring them back to where they came from.”
Among the most significant changes in the memos, which were obtained by McClatchy newspapers and The Washington Post, would be an expansion of expedited removal proceedings to cover thousands more unauthorized immigrants.
Under expedited removals, agents from the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement can deport detained individuals immediately. Under Obama administration directives, expedited removal was used only within 100 miles of the border for people who had been in the country no more than 14 days. Kelly’s memos would expand that to those who have been in the country for up to two years anywhere in the nation.
The memos also call for the possible prosecution of the parents of children who arrived as unaccompanied minors and are later reunited with the parents. Under Kelly’s directive, the parents could be charged with smuggling or trafficking.
But the memos appear to exempt the Dreamers, the young immigrants who are protected under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, called DACA. Trump has signaled that he is not eager to completely reverse that initiative, since those young immigrants were not responsible for their entering the country without permission.
“The DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me, because, you know, I love these kids,” Trump said at a news conference Thursday. “I love kids. I have kids and grandkids. And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do. And you know the law is rough.”
The White House cautioned Sunday that the details of the directives were still being reviewed but suggested final orders may be issued this week. “None of those are final and have not been signed off by the White House,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a deputy press secretary for Trump, told reporters in Florida, where the president was spending the weekend. The Department of Homeland Security declined to discuss the memos.
The changes in immigration enforcement, outlined in executive orders signed by Trump last month, have drawn praise from agents in the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“For the first time in my 19 years, I feel like I can do the job I was hired to do, the job they tell you you’ll be doing when you leave the academy,” said Shawn Moran, a Border Patrol agent in San Diego and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 16,000 of the agency’s 21,000 agents.
But immigration advocates called the policy changes dangerous and expressed disappointment in Kelly, who they had hoped would be a more moderate voice on immigration policy in the Trump administration because he had expressed sympathy for women and children arriving in the United States after fleeing violence in Central America.
“That hope is now gone,” Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization, said on Twitter. “The border security memo mentions Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan kids coming without pretending to care why.”
Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he hoped the administration would rethink the approach.
“All of these things are unfortunately not surprising but deeply worrisome, both for the people who are going to be directly affected and for the country as a whole,” Jadwat said. “This kind of inhumane approach and the disregard for fundamental due process values that’s embodied in these memos can do real damage to our country.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said that while he supported the removal of unauthorized immigrants who are dangerous criminals, Trump’s policies seemed to lump all unauthorized immigrants together.
“Ultimately, anyone who is found in an undocumented status would ultimately be apprehended and deported, with due process totally eroded under the proposals that I’m hearing about,” he said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “And that’s not only going to lead to massive deportations, they are going to affect every element of our society and our economic sector as well.”
Expanding immigration authorities’ reach would 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.
But Kelly’s memos envision hiring 10,000 new immigration and customs agents, expanding detention facilities and creating an office to help families of those killed by unauthorized 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.
Kelly’s directives would also instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, to begin reviving a program that recruits local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help with deportation, effectively making them de facto immigration agents. The effort, called the 287g program, was scaled back during the Obama administration.
The program faces resistance from many states and dozens of sanctuary cities, which have refused to allow their law enforcement workers to help round up unauthorized individuals.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will cut state funding for sanctuary cities and remove any elected official who promotes such policies. Abbott’s office canceled a $1.5 million grant to Travis County because the newly elected Democratic sheriff, Sally Hernandez, said her department would not respond to requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to flag inmates for possible deportation.
In Kansas, Kris Kobach, secretary of state and a transition adviser to Trump, is promoting a bill that would require the Kansas Highway Patrol to seek agreement with the federal government to deputize state troopers to enforce immigration laws. The Highway Patrol says it was not consulted on the bill. The measure faces opposition from Democrats and some moderate Republicans.