The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday laid out guidelines for what appears to be an aggressive crack-down on undocumented immigrants — an approach championed by Donald Trump while he campaigned for the presidency.
Kari Hong, an expert in immigration law and professor at Boston College Law School, details four actions she finds most troubling:
The focus of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy was to prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants who committed “serious crimes,” but these new directions “eliminate that divide,” Hong said.
“Anyone now is a priority if they have committed any crime, including misdemeanors and infractions, or committed conduct that could be a crime, as determined by immigration officers,” she said. That means at least 8 million people are now designated as a “top priority” for deportation, including people who have not committed crimes, Hong said.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, noted that the country will now “waste” its resources to go after people who have done nothing other than overstay their visa — which isn’t a crime.
“We’re not talking about people who are violent and dangerous,” she said. “We’re talking about people who live among us, who are our neighbors and who pay taxes.”
New Boarder and immigration officers
The Department of Homeland Security intends to hire 5,000 new Boarder Patrol agents and 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, for which the salaries alone would cost at least $750 million, Hong said.
The agency is also asking to have state and local governments identify and detain noncitizens. This would be voluntary, yet experts fear that cities and towns will cooperate out of fear of retaliation.
Many states and cities have previously opted out of this partnership because “over half of the people swept up didn’t have any criminal convictions, and local and state governments were on the hook for detention costs that ran into the millions while ICE figured out what to do” with those people, Hong said. Local municipalities were never reimbursed by the federal government.
“As a practical matter, under existing law, everyone is entitled to a hearing,” Hong said.
These are necessary, as half of the people who appear before an immigration judge are found to have a right to stay in the U.S, she added.
The new guidelines would circumvent that process.
Currently, about a half-million people are awaiting hearings, Hong said, adding that there is a three-year wait for them.
Homeland Security has said nothing about hiring more immigration judges. If another 8 million undocumented immigrants now considered “priority” are added to the existing backlog, it could take up to 50 years to give everyone a hearing, Hong said.
The Trump administration said that they will expand “expedited removal” to avoid this. That process is intended for someone who was previously deported and reentered the U.S., Hong said, not for someone who has never gone through the hearing process.
“Mistakes are going to be significant,” she said. “The presumption is to arrest, detain and deport first under the discretion of ICE officers. But under the existing law, anywhere from 1 to 8 percent of people picked up [by officers] are actually citizens.”
Detention Centers and Public Cost
Taxpayers currently contribute $2 billion a year for the detention of about 400,000 noncitizens, Hong said.
“If we increase that for every new million noncitizens detained, we’re looking at detention costs of $5 billion, all going to for-profit, private companies,” she said.
This increased cost to the taxpayer will come at the same time that money contributed by immigrants will be leaving our economy.
“Based on numbers from the Social Security office, in 2013, $12 billion was paid by undocumented immigrants,” Hong said. “That’s $12 billion more than President Trump paid in federal taxes.”
Some of the immigrants who could be picked up per these regulations are women whose “sole crime is illegally obtaining a Social Security number so that they can work and pay taxes,” Hong said.
She also noted that “someone has to be around to pay for Social Security,” and that U.S. citizens are not having children at a rate that will provide for that.
Currently, children under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called “dreamers,” will still be protected, though Hong warned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who called DACA constitutionally “questionable,” will have the final decision on its standing.
“We will be hurt in the immediate term and the long term if don’t integrate immigrants in very successful way,” Hong said. “President Trump is the child of an immigrant; President Obama is child of a noncitizen… Everyone who is not Native American is in that situation. It’s really sad that we forget quickly how deep our immigrant roots are.”
This story has been updated to include a more accurate cost esimation of the salaries for the 15,000 new officers.