WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump
administration is greatly expanding the number of people living in
the U.S. illegally who are considered a priority for deportation,
including people arrested for traffic violations, according to agency
documents released Tuesday.
The documents represent a sweeping
rewrite of the nation's immigration enforcement priorities.
The Homeland Security Department memos,
signed by Secretary John Kelly, lay out that any immigrant living in
the United States illegally who has been charged or convicted of any
crime — and even those suspected of a crime — will now be an
enforcement priority. That could include people arrested for shop
lifting or minor traffic offenses.
The memos eliminate far more narrow
guidance issued under the Obama administration that focused resources
strictly on immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes,
threats to national security and recent border crossers.
Kelly's memo also describes plans to
enforce a long-standing but obscure provision of the U.S. Immigration
and Nationality Act that allows the government to send some people
caught illegally crossing the Mexican border back to Mexico,
regardless of where they are from. One of the memos says that
foreigners sent back to Mexico would wait for their U.S. deportation
proceedings to be complete. This would be used for people who aren't
considered a threat to cross the border illegally again, the memo
It's unclear whether the United States
has the authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners. That
provision is almost certain to face opposition from civil
libertarians and officials in Mexico.
Historically, the government has been
able to quickly repatriate Mexican nationals caught at the border but
would detain and try to formally deport immigrants from other
countries, routinely flying them to their home countries. In some
cases, those deportations can take years as immigrants ask for asylum
or otherwise fight their deportation in court.
The memos do not change U.S.
immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.
The pair of directives do not have any
impact on President Barack Obama's program that has protected more
than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals remains in place though immigrants in the
program will be still be eligible for deportation if they commit a
crime or otherwise are deemed to be a threat to public safety or
national security, according to the department.