“The Trump administration is quickly unraveling the last administration’s efforts to prioritize those for deportation who pose a serious threat over those who don’t. The new administration is ignoring priorities that were put into place by the Obama Administration as a way to manage limited law enforcement resources. The priorities recognized that there is a finite budget available for immigration enforcement, thus making prioritization important. The approach now being pursued by the Trump Administration casts a wide net and will result in an aggressive and unforgiving approach to immigration enforcement moving forward.
The most significant indications of this shift came through the “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S.” executive order, issued January 25, 2017, which prioritizes for deportation those noncitizens who:
Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
Have been charged with any criminal offense;
Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a government agency;
Have abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits;
Are subject to a final order of removal but have not departed;
Otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
In addition, unauthorized immigrants with no criminal history will likely fit under the third bullet because entering without inspection is a chargeable criminal offense (illegal entry or re-entry). And since the executive order states that many immigrants without immigration status or who overstayed their visas are a risk to public safety and national security, it appears the final bullet is a catch-all category for many others. In other words, the president has “prioritized” everyone, which means in reality he’s prioritized no one, making everyone a target for enforcement. Furthermore, legal immigrants—even green card holders–who are convicted of aggravated felonies or crimes of moral turpitude could also be subject to deportation.
Yet despite the more aggressive approach, it is still unclear from where the resources to identify, arrest, detain, and deport all of these individuals will come. For example, the U.S. is already over-capacity in detention, and immigration courts are seriously backlogged.
In the past, the government has stated that budget realities make it impossible to remove everyone who is in the country without authorization or who is otherwise deportable. This meant the agency had to set priorities and focus on a subset of deportable immigrants.
The Obama administration released a series of memos designed to prioritize those who pose a threat to public safety and national security and other categories of individuals.”
The Obama Administration made a total mess out of the already stressed U.S. Immigration Court dockets by unwisely and unnecessarily “prioritizing” cases of recently arrived unaccompanied children, women, and families fleeing violence and corruption in the Northern Triangle.
Nevertheless, thorough programs such as DACA, stateside processing, closing cases with possible relief pending before USCIS, and frequent wise use of prosecutorial discretion (“PD”) in “clean” cases with difficult legal issues but strong humanitarian factors, the Obama Administration was the first Administration I have seen make progress on developing a system that could eventually have helped “rationalize” Immigration Court dockets. If freed from politicized and unrealistic “priorities” from above, this eventually could have allowed the courts to focus on cases that really needed to be litigated, as is the case with almost all other high-volume court systems.
By contrast, the Trump Administration seems intent on “torquing” the Immigration Court system until it breaks apart. Even the Obama Administration used an overly broad concept of “criminal alien.” They included too many individuals who, while technically removable under the law, were doing useful things in the community and presented no real threat to the safety or security of the U.S.
Certainly the Trump Administration could have focused on those whose removals should be prioritized by “fine tuning” the Obama enforcement priorities. Instead, they have embarked on an expensive and ill-planned “mission impossible” to make everybody a priority (and, hence, nobody a priority) without any regard to the capacity or the best uses of court time and resources within our judicial system.
Additionally, the Trump Administration seems to be going out of its way to “disempower” those who are closest to the problem and are actually in the best position to determine which cases should be prosecuted: the local Offices of Chief Counsel of the DHS (the “immigration equivalent” of the U.S. Attorney). In Arlington, the Office of Chief Counsel was well-respected by all and had an excellent grasp of how to make the justice system work for all involved. Their main problem, like that of the Immigration Courts, was unrealistic priorities and directives imposed on them by political officials “up the chain.”
Sadly, the Trump Administration seems determined not to build on those things that have been successful in the past and instead to embark on a new “blunderbuss” approach to immigration enforcement that is almost guaranteed to get tied up with both legal challenges and practical impossibilities.