When the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Gen. John Kelly publicly announced the Trump Administration’s new, tougher enforcement of immigration laws he warned that immigration officers “may” initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encounter.
Just a day later, Kelly’s chief of the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE, repeated to his 5700 deportation officers the boss’ instructions word for word. Except for one word. Matthew Albence changed Gen. Kelly’s “ take action to “will l take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”
The theoretical distinction between “may” and “will” turns on the concept of prioritization, as in Secretary Kelly’s declaration, which followed many from his boss, President Donald Trump, that they were going to prioritize immigration enforcement by deporting immigrants who posed a public safety threat.
The real world difference between “may” and “will” is that more than half of the immigrants who accounted for an almost 40% rise in the numbers of people arrested and slated for deportation were non-citizens with no criminal record.
And let’s remember, crossing the border “illegally” is not a crime, but, legally, a civil offense.
When DHS was asked about Kelly’s “may” versus Albence’s “will,” the spokesperson said there was no difference, rather perfect agreement that “no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.”
In other words, Kelly meant “will” all along but, for some reason didn’t want to say so out loud.
Well, actions speak louder than words, and DHS’ actions suggest they want to break the recent records for non-citizens deported, families broken apart, dreams shattered. The records, of course, were set by President Barack Obama, peaking in 2011 at 29,000 deportations in the year.
That’s how it was for 5 of the 8 Obama years. It is only in 2014 that a kinder, gentler, much more family-friendly Obama immigration policy was in effect.
But it is that humanitarian policy the Trump Administration, and its appointed leaders at DHS, ICE and ERO want dismantled.
That’s the Department of Homeland Security, its Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, and its Enforcement and Removal Operation – the deportation division, all fully in synch with indiscriminate arrests of non-criminals – a high school kid on his way to the prom, to adult men and women actually reporting voluntarily to ICE offices to file the annual report that had kept them safely in America for years.
Behind this, says Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, is a mind-set: “They seem to think that immigrants are only causing harm to the United States.”
And this mindset in which all undocumented immigrants are bad is producing, says an Obama-era acting director of ICE, a severe misapplication of resources. “What you end up doing, says John Sandweg, “is siphoning away resources that should go to the public safety threats.”
Marcelo Rochabrun is a reporting fellow with ProPublica. He recently graduated from Princeton University, where he studied history and flute performance. He was editor in chief of The Daily Princetonian and published an investigation on how Princeton’s “eating clubs” had benefited from millions of dollars in unwarranted tax subsidies to build and refurbish their lavish clubhouses through educational foundations set up exclusively to funnel tax-exempt monies.
He has also worked for the Center for Public Integrity covering money in politics and for IDL-Reporteros, a nonprofit investigative newsroom based in his native Peru, where he covered government corruption.