I have not written a blog post since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States until today. I thought I would wait until it became clear exactly how he would implement his immigration policies until I wrote a summary of changes to the law. I figured this might take a few weeks. However, we are now a month into his administration, and the dominoes continue to fall with no sign of slowing down. So, today, I would like to write a short summary of what has happened so far, discuss the impact of these changes on the day-to-day lives of immigrants in the United States, and talk about what changes are likely in the future. It is important for immigrants to understand what is happening, not only to protect their rights but also because there are a lot of rumors and false information in the community. Yesterday for example an immigrant acquaintance of mine told me she heard that ICE had detained and deported a US citizen back to his country of birth. This is FALSE; US citizens cannot be deported (without first being stripped of citizenship, a very lengthy process which can only happen in one or two narrow circumstances). But, I understand the climate of fear and unpredictability in which we live makes things seem possible that would have been impossible just a month ago.
Without further ado, it is time to talk about executive orders and enforcement priorities.
First, I should talk about the January 30, 2017 executive order titled “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”. This is better known around the country as the “Muslim ban.”
In that executive order, President Trump did three main things. First, he instituted an immediate ban on entry for individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Yemen. This ban stopped processing of all visa applications from individuals from those countries. Even more shockingly, it impacted individuals with valid visas and even lawful permanent residents from those countries. This ban was set to last 90 days, until about April 30, 2017.
Second, he suspended the United States refugee admission program for individuals from ANY country for a period of 120 days. No new refugees, in other words, would be resettled. He also ordered that once admissions began again, “minority religions” would be given preference (presumably Christians).
Third, he stated that there would be an indefinite ban on future admissions of Syrian refugees to the United States, even after the larger refugee program restarted.
As most people know, this order is not in effect as of the moment I write this blog post. Various court decisions found it to have serious constitutional problems, and the 9th Circuit declined to allow the ban to go forward in a decision in early February 2017.
HOWEVER, I also have heard that a new ban, written more carefully to avoid the legal problems in the first executive order, may be instituted as early as this week. And, the reports I have read state that it may have practically the same impact as the previous ban (most likely excepting green card holders). It is very important for any potentially impacted individuals to pay close attention to the news, and talk to an immigration lawyer as soon as possible if you or a family member may be implicated.
The other two executive orders I need to mention deal more with immigration enforcement within the United States, and relative to our southern neighbors in Mexico and Central America. Both of these orders were issued on January 25, 2017.
The first order that day is titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.” That order issued a number of changes in enforcement on our southern border. The first change is ordering the construction of the long promised wall along the Mexican border. Other changes include potentially recruiting local law enforcement to be deputized as immigration agents in a program known as 287(g); ending the program of “catch-and-release” on the border (meaning that all detainees would be put into detention, not let out to later attend court hearings); the hiring of many additional border agents and immigration judges, and the construction of new detention facilities; more restrictive attitudes towards individuals seeking asylum in the United States; and several other smaller provisions such as conducting a full review of Customs and Border Protection policies.
The second order signed that day is “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” This order had a whole long list of changes to the way ICE agents enforce immigration law within the United States. For example: calling for stricter enforcement of the law, and detaining more individuals who previously would have been left alone; stripping funding from cities who do not turn over immigrants to ICE after they are arrested; stripping privacy protections for personal information the government has collected from non-citizens; hiring more immigration officers and attempting to enroll more law enforcement in the 287(g) program described above.
But, the biggest and most shocking change (to me at least) is a shift in the so-called “priority system.” Under president Obama, ICE officials were supposed to focus on individuals with serious criminal records, such as three misdemeanors or a single felony. This order gets rid of that priority system, and instead states the following:
- Removal priorities shall be addressed in the following order: aliens convicted of any criminal offense; aliens charged, but not yet convicted of any criminal offense; aliens who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; aliens who engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation toward a government agency; aliens who have abused any public benefits program; aliens who have not complied with any removal order; aliens who, in the judgment of an immigration officer, pose a risk to public safety or national security.
In other words, this could apply ALMOST ANY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT IN THE UNITED STATES. It remains to be seen how it is applied, but there is certainly an argument that anyone here without permission is in violation of the law, making them a priority for removal. Furthermore, even people accused of crimes but not convicted may be detained. This will give immigration authorities the opportunity to detain pretty much anybody they want at any time, which is chilling.
The last thing I want to mention is the two memos signed by the Department of Homeland Security on February 17, 2017. The memo spelled out the details of the two executive orders mentioned above. The biggest takeaway from these memos I have seen is that far fewer individuals will have the right to see a judge than before. Previously, immigrants had a right to talk to a deportation judge if they had been in the USA for more than 2 weeks, and if they were not apprehended close to the border. Now, ANY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT may be deported without a hearing if they have been in the United States for less than 2 years. This is an absolutely fundamental change to policy.
Other big changes in this memo include
So, what can we do about this? The advice is mostly the same as always. Stay out of trouble. Don’t drink and drive. If you have family members with lawful status, talk to an immigration attorney immediately about your options. Now, however, if you do have to drive, carry proof that you have been here for more than 2 years. Carry a copy of your US citizen children’s birth certificates in your glove box. If ICE comes to your door, do not open it unless they slide a warrant under the door with your name on it and signed by a judge.
A final note I wish to make is that so far, there has been NO discussion of the DACA program in any executive order. There were rumors that DACA would be gutted by an executive order soon after Trump took office, but the fact that it has survived this long with all the other changes to immigration enforcement priorities is very encouraging. However, it is definitely not safe yet. I would encourage everyone to speak to their congressmen and women to support DACA, in hopes this vital program may survive despite these other difficult changes.
And please, if you hear ANY rumors about big changes, talk to a lawyer before you panic! In these difficult times, information is the best protection.