Over the long holiday weekend, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly issued two memos spelling out the implementation of Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration. These memos eliminate all doubt that the administration intends to follow through on the worst of its threats in the orders signed on January 25, 2017. The memos also harden into national policy some of the most egregious human rights abuses advocates have been witnessing on the border and in our cities in recent weeks.
This is not “business as usual.” Secretary Kelly’s memos take unprecedented steps at removing long-held constitutional and statutory protections in immigration proceedings, continue to criminalize immigrants, and put children and parents lawfully seeking refuge at risk of criminal charges and separation. UUSC remains vigilant in watching the Trump administration’s efforts to expand policy in ways that violate civil and human rights and continues to work with our partners on the ground to support those affected by these unnecessary, harmful policies.
Here is a quick rundown of some of the troubling activities outlined in the memos.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents can easily target just about any undocumented person for deportation and deny them due process protections.
The administration is throwing out years of “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines that had offered a small bedrock of security, however tenuous, for undocumented families. Under this new regime, anyone targeted by an ICE agent or picked up during a raid is at risk of being deported. This could separate parents from their U.S. citizen children and expel people who have lived in this country for decades or longer. The memos also designate as an enforcement priority deportation of anyone who has committed a “chargeable criminal offense,” even if they have never been arrested, tried, or convicted.
The memos will likewise expand the use of “expedited removal,” which allows ICE to deport people without any legal proceedings. This form of summary removal will now apply to every undocumented immigrant who can’t prove they have been in the country for more than two years, stripping an even wider category of immigrants of their Fifth Amendment right to due process. Such hasty deportations can be a matter of life and death since deportees from the United States are often singled out for persecution by criminal groups in Central America and Mexico.
- People will be increasingly criminalized because of their immigration status.
In calling for heavier prosecution of crimes related to the southern border, Secretary Kelly has swept together grave matters like human trafficking with innocuous and victimless immigration offenses. Many of these offenses, like giving a false social security number to an employer or driving without a license, are all but inescapable for undocumented people who need to work and put food on the table. Aggressively prosecuting immigration violations will push even more innocent people into deportation proceedings. It will basically make it a crime to survive as an undocumented person in the United States.
More concerning still, there is a serious danger that these new policies will slam asylum-seekers with “illegal entry” charges if they cross the border at an “improper time or place,” which would violate international law by making it a crime to seek protection. Advocates have already heard reports that this is happening in some locations.
- Asylum-seekers can be detained en masse, with little hope of parole, or worse – pushed back across the border.
Secretary Kelly has called for the near-total restriction of parole for immigrants in detention currently awaiting their court dates (many of which will be years in the future due to backlogs in the system). We have heard stories of ICE arresting and re-detaining people previously released, as well as refusing to consider parole applications from asylum-seekers.
This form of detention, in facilities run by private prison contractors, allows for the long-term incarceration of people who have done nothing worse than a civil immigration violation.
The memos will also allow DHS to send people back to Mexico to await the completion of removal proceedings regardless of whether they are Mexican nationals. Treating asylum-seekers this way would amount to a violation of international law, which forbids pushing people back across the border without screening if they have expressed fear for their safety.
- Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.
Currently, children who cross the border alone are protected from summary deportation under the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Kelly’s memos redefine the term “unaccompanied child” to exclude refugee children who cross the border without adults, but subsequently reunite with their parents in the United States. This would open the door to placing children of any age into expedited removal and denying them their lawful protections under the TVPRA.
Finally, Kelly’s memos target undocumented parents for deportation or criminal charges under human trafficking laws if their children seek refuge in the United States. Parents from Central America often have few options to help their asylum-seeking children escape their persecutors apart from hiring a smuggler because criminal networks now control nearly all border crossings. The Secretary’s memos permit DHS to prosecute these parents as accessories to smuggling and human trafficking, essentially criminalizing them for protecting their children’s safety.
In response to concerns about how the Trump administration is likely to proceed, UUSC has joined with the Unitarian Universalist Association on an unprecedented course of action to align ourselves together, united in purpose to protect the values of our democracy and those vulnerable populations among us.
As a first step, we have prepared a Declaration of Conscience stating in the strongest possible terms our commitment in these troubling times. By signing the declaration, you join us in affirming our core values and declaring our willingness to put them into action. We encourage you to read the full declaration here, and add your name.