By Marcelo Rochabrun
The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.
In a February memo, Matthew Albence, a career official who heads the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE, informed his 5,700 deportation officers that, “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”
The Trump administration, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has been clear in promising to ramp up immigration enforcement, but has so far emphasized that its priority was deporting immigrants who posed a public safety threat. Indeed, Kelly, to whom Albence ultimately reports, had seemed to suggest a degree of discretion when he told the agencies under his command earlier this year that immigration officers “may” initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encountered. That guidance was issued just a day before Albence sent the memo to his staff.
A spokesman with ICE said Albence’s directive did not represent a break with Kelly’s stated aims, and was consistent with current agency policies.
“The memo directly supports the directions handed down in the executive orders and mirrors the language ICE consistently uses to describe its enforcement posture,” the spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement. “As Secretary Kelly and Acting Director [of ICE] Homan have stated repeatedly, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats; however, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.”
However, Sarah Saldaña, who retired in January as head of ICE for the Obama administration, said the wording in the memo would have real consequences for undocumented immigrants.
“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” said Saldaña. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone above Matt Albence comes back and says, ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration.”
David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the fallout from the memo has been evident for months. “The memo explains what we have actually been seeing on the ground,” Bier said, asserting that immigrants without criminal backgrounds were routinely being arrested and ordered deported.
Since 2008, Congress had traditionally used its annual spending bill to instruct the secretary of homeland security to prioritize the deportation of convicted immigrants based on the severity of their crimes, but that language was left out of this year’s bill, helping to pave the way for broader enforcement.
In recent months, the number of undocumented immigrants arrested who are considered to be non-criminals has risen. (Under the law, merely being here illegally is not a crime. Rather, it’s a civil violation.) Between February and May, the Trump administration arrested, on average, 108 undocumented immigrants a day with no criminal record, an uptick of some 150 percent from the same time period a year ago.
For example, an Ecuadorean high schooler was detained by ICE agents who showed up at his home in upstate New York hours before his senior prom in June. Three restaurant workers targeted for immigration violations were arrested in May in Michigan after ICE agents ate breakfast where they worked. A Salvadoran man is facing deportation in Houston after voluntarily showing up to an ICE office for a routine check-in.
The ICE memo acknowledges that space in detention facilities limits the number of undocumented immigrants who can be detained upon apprehension. Still, it says ICE officials are mandated to begin deportation proceedings against all undocumented immigrants with whom they cross paths — even if those apprehended remain free as they face an immigration judge, a process that can take years.
Others may be swiftly deported if they are found to already have final deportation orders signed by an immigration judge. As of May 2016, there were 930,000 undocumented immigrants who had been ordered deported but remained freely in the country, according to ICE statistics.
“My concern is that what you end up doing is siphoning away resources that should go to the public safety threats,” said John Sandweg, who preceded Saldaña as acting ICE director.
Under Obama-era guidelines, undocumented immigrants with no criminal record — but perhaps with a pending deportation order — could only be arrested if an agent’s supervisor determined their deportation “would serve an important federal interest.”Homan has appeared to acknowledge the impact of the agency’s more aggressive approach even if he did not mention Albence’s explicit direction.“There has been a significant increase in non-criminal arrests because we weren’t allowed to arrest them in the past administration,” Homan told a House committee. “You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.”
Both Homan and Albence are career employees who have worked for decades helping the government enforce immigration laws. Before Homan was promoted to lead ICE, he led ERO, with Albence as his assistant director.
“I expect that the agency believes that there is no one in the White House or DHS that is going to tell them ‘No. Don’t do this,’” Bier said. “And without an effective check in the administration we are going to see arrests being made without any regard to prioritization.”
Trump has yet to nominate a political director to lead ICE. In fact, all three immigration agencies under Homeland Security — ICE, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — are currently implementing Trump’s agenda while being led by career staff.
Homan has so far served as a vocal supporter of Trump’s ramped up immigration enforcement. Last week, he even made an appearance at a White House press briefing.
“Why do you think we got 11 million to 12 million people in this country [illegally] now?” Homan asked White House reporters. “Because there has been this notion that if you get by the Border Patrol, if you get in the United States, if you have a U.S. citizen kid, then no one is looking for you. But those days are over.”
He Was About To Pick Up His Newborn Son After Surgery When He Was Arrested By ICE
By Marcelo Rochabrun
Early last Monday morning, Oscar Millan’s longtime partner called him from a Boston hospital, weepy with relief.
Their son, Oscar Matias, had been born two weeks earlier with a serious condition that prevented food from traveling from his stomach to his small intestine. But that morning, he’d undergone a successful surgery to repair it, and a second was scheduled for early June. Millan told his partner, Evanice Escudero, that he’d be by to pick them up in a couple of hours, after checking in on a landscaping job he had to do that day.
But Millan, a 37-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant, never made it to the hospital.
As he drove to the job site, he was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who were looking for him near his home in Framingham, Massachusetts, about 20 miles outside of Boston. In 2008, an immigration judge had ordered Millan deported after a failed asylum claim, but Millan had stayed in the country with his family until he recently pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. An ICE spokesman said Millan’s arrest was prompted by both the deportation order and the conviction.
At the hospital, Escudero began to panic. “I was calling him over and over again but he wasn’t picking up and I didn’t know why,” Escudero said in an interview in Spanish. “I didn’t know what was going on until Oscar’s mother came to pick me up at around 11 or noon.”
After the arrest, ICE agents had gone to Millan and Escudero’s house and explained to his mother what had happened.
The move to detain Millan is a sign that the Trump administration is delivering on its promise to strictly follow longstanding immigration laws to maximize its ability to deport people living unlawfully in the United States.
After years of aggressive enforcement, the Obama administration had instructed immigration officials in 2014 to exercise more discretion in who they targeted. ICE agents were told to consider the length of time immigrants had lived in the country, their family or community ties and whether they had a young child or a seriously ill relative before seeking their deportation. The Trump administration explicitly rescinded those guidelines in February. Instead, it told immigration officers to enforce the law “to the greatest extent practicable.”
“He has to be with his family right now,” said Matthew Cameron, a Boston lawyer who’s representing Millan. “But you need to understand that there is no legal path, there never has been a legal path for that. It’s a fairly typical story now in Trump’s deportation system.”
An ICE spokesman said Millan would “remain in ICE custody pending his removal from the United States.”
It’s hard to say whether Millan’s case is a direct result of Trump’s aggressive immigration policies. Even without the DUI, a February memo from the Department of Homeland Security said immigration agents should prioritize the deportation of those who had outstanding orders to be removed.
During the first 100 days of the administration, ICE officers arrested 38 percent more immigrants than during the same period in 2016, about 410 individuals a day. The administration touted the numbers as a victory, but the narrow comparison obscures the evolution of the Obama administration on immigration enforcement. In fact, during the majority of his administration, Obama deported far more people each day than Trump has so far.
In the press release announcing the increase in arrests, ICE’s acting director Thomas Homan said the agency would no longer sit on deportation orders — like the one Millan had for years — before enforcing them.
“We are a nation of laws, and ignoring orders issued by federal judges undermines our constitutional government,” Homan said.
Millan was arrested in January 2016 by a Framingham police officer for driving under the influence. At the time, a breathalyzer test said he had a blood-alcohol concentration almost twice the Massachusetts legal limit. The police report made no mention of his immigration status, other than mentioning that Millan had no valid driver’s license, and had instead showed a Mexican one.
“After his conviction, he would have gone up the pecking order even under Obama,” said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, an advocacy organization based in Boston. “And there is no real pecking order under the Trump administration. Everyone is a priority.”
Steven Carl, who led the Framingham Police Department until 2013, said that during his time there the presence of ICE agents was rare, perhaps one or two days every six months. The town is 13 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 census, and has a particularly large Brazilian population.
“It seems odd just because he has a DUI that they would pick him up,” Carl said. “I’d think ICE would have higher priorities than that.”
The Framingham Police Department, which has a policy of not actively cooperating with ICE, did not respond to requests for comment.
After his arrest on May 22, Millan was held in a Boston detention center but was recently sent to a larger facility in Louisiana. Cameron, his lawyer, has filed an emergency request to stay his deportation — a last recourse — asking ICE to “allow him to remain with his family during this critical time in his newborn son’s life.” He said he has yet to receive a response, but the requirements of the administrative appeal are notoriously hard to decipher.
Millan’s case echoes that of Andres Magana Ortiz, 43, a Mexican immigrant who lived in the U.S. for 28 years and was recently denied an emergency stay by ICE. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said on Tuesday that it had no authority to prevent his deportation. …
A Judge Ruled These Kids Get A Green Card. ICE Says They Get Deported
For the first time, U.S. immigration officials are seeking to deport children who have received a special status for vulnerable migrants and are in the final stages of getting their green cards.
State judges and immigration authorities can jointly grant children a special humanitarian designation known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status if they decide undocumented children have been abandoned, abused or neglected by one of their parents in their home country. Children who qualify are given a U.S. Social Security number, a work permit and a green card.
Now, a group of children from Central America who are close to becoming legal permanent residents face imminent deportation after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to close their deportation cases in February.
Children in the same scenario have previously completed the process without facing similar threats of deportation.
“The immigration administration is saying they don’t care – that the risks that lie beyond the border are not their problem,” said Leon Rodriguez, who oversaw the granting of the humanitarian status as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services until early 2017.
V.G. is one of the first children with the status to be placed in deportation proceedings while he waits for his green card.
He had become desperate to evade the aggressive recruitment of gangs in his rural hometown in El Salvador, and in the fall of 2015, when he was 14, he and his mother decided to seek refuge in the United States. They crossed into the U.S. by swimming across the Rio Grande. Hours later, they were arrested by U.S. immigration authorities and readied for deportation.
Before they could be sent back, V.G. made the case to a family court judge in Pennsylvania that he deserved a special humanitarian designation for migrant kids because he’d been abandoned by his father in El Salvador, and gangs in his home country have been known to prey on vulnerable teens.
When Congress created the status in 1990, it called on family courts to decide whether the children qualify for humanitarian protection. The migrant then submits an application, which is approved or denied by the Department of Homeland Security.
Because the court found that he had been abandoned and it was not in his best interest to be returned home, V.G. was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. He is referred to only by his initials in court documents because he is considered a vulnerable minor.
V.G. and three other children in his situation are challenging their impending deportation. In a federal court in Southern California, they are trying to force the government to reopen their deportation cases. They will make their case to a judge on July 10.
They have also filed a class-action lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where they are being detained with their mothers, that argues that in trying to deport the children, the U.S. government is violating the U.S. Constitution and federal immigration laws. A panel of judges could make a decision as early as this summer.
Bridget Cambria, a Pennsylvania attorney who represents V.G. and the three other children who are in a similar situation, said these cases could have far-reaching impact on whether more children with the status will be deported. …