On January 25th, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” that potentially makes almost every undocumented immigrant a deportation priority. By decimating the Obama-era policy prioritizing those who pose the most danger to our communities, serious criminals and national security risks, Trump is throwing any notion of “deportation priorities” out the window.
Trump’s plan is a blueprint to implement his campaign promises of mass deportation, and it puts in place the Deportation Force to carry out his plan. It’s clear that the executive orders were crafted by the most extreme anti-immigrant zealots in Trump’s orbit.
Executive Order targets immigrants who haven’t even been charged or convicted of a crime.
To be sure, Trump is trying to cloak his Executive Order in the superficial trappings of a policy aimed at deporting “criminals.” But that is what Obama’s policies did. The technical language of Trump’s Order goes far beyond any common sense definition of a dangerous criminal.
Unsurprisingly, Trump is lying.
The scope of this policy is not surprising, given Trump’s penchant for overly-broad generalizations and lies. We all remember he started his campaign with false claim that “most” Mexicans are “criminals and rapists.” He is stacking his Administration with some of the worst anti-immigrant extremists like U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, white nationalists, and staffers from Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups.
It’s also widely established that Trump pays no attention to policy details and is completely comfortable lying in public, even when his claims can be clearly disproved. Remember this every time Trump claims his new policy targets threats and criminals. If those were really his priorities, he would keep the Jeh Johnson deportation memo in place.
For those who want to get into the policy weeds, allow me to explain. Under Trump’s Executive Order there are four basic priorities, but taken together they actually throw any notion of prioritization out the window.
Trump’s Executive Order goes after:
-People convicted of any criminal offense, regardless of what the offense was, when it occurred, or the circumstances of the conviction;
-People who haven’t even been convicted of a crime, but have been charged with one;
-People who have have simply broken a law, with no charges or convictions resulting;
-People with final administrative deportation orders, no matter how long ago they received the order and their positive ties and contributions; and
-Anyone else Trump’s Deportation Force wants to prioritize.
Trump’s Executive Order targets anyone ever convicted of any criminal offense, regardless of what the offense was, when it occurred, or the circumstances of the conviction.
This puts parking tickets in the same category as murder. Of course, that sort of logic defies common sense, but it’s there in black and white.
This broad language is unquestionably aimed at undocumented immigrants who, because of their immigration status, have driven without a license or been ticketed for a burned out tail light. Once again, traffic violations will become deportable offenses. Consider the undocumented wife and mother of U.S. citizen children who’s faced with the wrenching choice between letting her sick child suffer with a fever or driving to the drugstore on an expired license to fill a prescription.
Nor is there any limit to how long ago the conviction occurred or what the circumstances were. A 58 year-old immigrant could be a Deportation Force priority if he was convicted of a possessing a marijuana cigarette — a minor misdemeanor — 30 years ago.
Trump’s executive order targets immigrants who’ve been charged, but not convicted, of any crime.
Trump also tells his Deportation Force to go after people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime, but have simply been charged with an offense. Aside from the patently unjust practice of penalizing someone based on unproven allegations, this clause pulls an end around the immigration law by giving a police officer the power to transform any immigrant into an enforcement priority just by charging them with an offense.
As Politico’s Danny Vinik observes: “Prioritizing individuals who have simply been charged with a crime but not yet convicted also gives state and local law enforcement enhanced powers over immigration. An aggressive local police department could arrest undocumented immigrants, even if they don’t have enough evidence to convict them in court. Before even having their case heard, they would immediately become a priority for deportation.”
This is a gift to serial civil rights abusers like former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose notorious career in law enforcement was characterized by terrorizing Latino neighborhoods and contempt for the rule of law. Under Trump’s immigration plan all a rogue anti-immigrant law enforcement agent need do is find an immigrant they don’t like, charge her with a crime and make her a target of Trump’s Deportation Force.
Trump’s scheme could also benefit serial domestic abusers. One can only imagine the scenario that plays out day in and day out in American homes: an immigrant woman — either a lawful permanent resident or undocumented — suffers abuse at the hands of her U.S. citizen husband who threatens her with deportation if she calls the police.
The physical and emotional abuse continues and, one night, the police are called by a concerned neighbor who hears the wife screaming. When the officers arrive the husband, taking advantage of his wife’s lack of fluency in English and unfamiliarity with the culture, lies to the cops and convinces them she was the one who attacked him. The officers charge the wife and, under Trump’s immigration plan, she is instantly transformed into an enforcement priority; regardless of the fact that she was the victim and should be a priority for protection not deportation.
Trump’s Executive Order targets immigrants who haven’t even been charged or convicted of a crime.
What’s more, an immigrant doesn’t actually have to be convicted or even charged with a crime to receive priority deportation treatment. The plan’s legalese includes immigrants who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
The implications of this are simply breathtaking. It could give Trump’s Deportation Force the authority to target millions of immigrants who’ve never been charged with a crime, but may have entered the country without inspection, worked without authorization, or driven a car. It gives DHS and ICE unfettered power, melding Big Brother and the Thought Police in a chilling example of government control. Let he who has never broken any law — any law — their entire life cast the first stone.
So much for prioritization.
Trump’s policy threatens millions of immigrants — including Dreamers — who have lived in this country for decades, just because they happen to have an old deportation order.
There are many reasons why immigrants could have deportation orders in their past. Lack of notice about immigration court hearing dates, for example, was a notorious problem years ago. The Executive Order makes no allowance for or consideration of reasons these immigrants might be allowed to stay — not their length of time in the United States, whether they are married to a US citizen or have children who are citizens, or the content of their character and the contributions they have been making. The Executive Order also makes no provisions for situations where an immigrant is entitled to have deportation order rescinded.
Finally, Trump’s Executive Order includes a catch-all clause that gives low-level deportation agents discretionary authority to deport basically anyone.
The Executive Order is premised on Trump’s belief that “many” of the 11 million immigrants in the country without papers pose a “significant threat national security and public safety.” This language, combined with a later clause empowering low-level immigration officers to deport anyone based on their singular judgement that someone poses a “risk to public safety or national security” is a clear signal that President Trump wants his Deportation Force to feel completely empowered to target anyone.
In short, Trump’s Executive Order is not just a rewriting of the Jeh Johnson deportation priorities — it’s throwing any form of prioritization out the window. It is a blueprint for mass deportation.
No one should be lulled into believing otherwise.
David Leopold is an immigration attorney.