Last week, the Associated Press got hold of a draft memo revealing that the Trump administration was considering mobilizing the National Guard to round up millions of undocumented immigrants.
Understandably, people freaked out.
So when the Department of Homeland Security announced details of its plan to carry out Trump's executive orders — with no mention of the National Guard — the reaction was relatively subdued. Politicians haven't rushed to issue statements. We also have yet to see any large-scale protests like the ones that took place after the Muslim travel ban was announced.
You can form your own conclusions about if this was exactly what the administration hoped would happen, or if people are simply burned out after spending the past month fighting everything from the appointment of Betsy DeVos to the potential repeal of Obamacare.
But either way, the newly released memos represent a dramatic shift in immigration policy.
As Lynn Tramonte of the immigration reform group America’s Voice puts it, “These memos lay out a detailed blueprint for the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. They fulfill the wish lists of the white nationalist and anti-immigrant movements and bring to life the worst of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric."
Here's why many people like Tramonte believe the new deportation policy is a big deal:
1. It will affect millions of undocumented immigrants.
Anyone who’s been charged with a crime or has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” is now considered a priority for deportation.
That means that there's no distinction being made between someone who is convicted of, say, armed robbery, and someone who gets pulled over for a busted tail light and turns out to be driving without a license.
For undocumented immigrants, getting by in America usually requires breaking the law in minor ways. Maybe you drive without a license because you have no other way of getting to work. Maybe you wrote down a fake social security number on your job application in order to get hired. Maybe you make a living as a street vendor, but don't have the proper permits.
That means that the "criminals" being deported are likely to be hardworking mothers like Guadalupe Garcia who have no history of committing violent crimes and present no apparent threat to anybody.
2. People will be deported before they've had a trial.
The so-called "deport first, ask questions later" policy states that undocumented immigrants can be back to their home countries before their cases are heard in immigration court.
Those cases will be heard over video conference, the memo suggests.
On the plus side, immigrants who are deported immediately won't face interminable waits in immigration detention centers — which have been the site of too many human-rights violations to name.
But it's hard not to see this new policy as flying directly in the face of "innocent until proven guilty."
3. The policy will result in 15,000 new immigration agents being hired.
The plans call for hiring 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers and 5,000 more border patrol officers.
That's concerning to WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, which points out that the U.S. Border Patrol doubled in size between 2005 and 2011 without vetting new recruits properly.
That led to hundreds of corruption cases as well as high-profile complaints about the agency's use of force.
Adam Isacson, WOLA's senior associate for defense oversight, notes that the unions for both Border Patrol and ICE have seen their influence grow under the Trump administration. Internal-affairs units, not so much. The result could be a permissive, anything-goes culture.
"This, in turn, may increase the number of violent incidents and corruption cases, with grave effects for border security agencies’ credibility, reputation, and community relations," Isacson writes.
4. It's going to be really expensive.
A former director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement told the Washington Post that hiring all those new ICE officers could cost as much as $1 billion to $2 billion once you factor in the costs of hiring, training, equipment, and offices.
It's not yet clear where that money will come from.
5. It could be a human-rights disaster.
As Human Rights Watch has documented, U.S. officials carrying out the processes known as "expedited removal" or "reinstatement of removal" routinely fail to identify asylum seekers who would face persecution, torture, violence, or abuse if they returned to their home countries.
The new memos call for expanding those processes, which researchers say is a disaster waiting to happen.
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