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What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 2/3

By Josh Leach on January 27, 2017

woman behind fence

This series looks at the recent executive orders on immigration the Trump administration signed. Many, however have been left wondering what the actual impact of the new executive actions will be in practice. We hope this three-part executive order series of what we know so far will be helpful in finding answers. Click here to read parts one and three.

Trump’s executive orders massively expand the definition of “criminal alien,” effectively making it a crime just to be undocumented.

As described in our first blog in this series, Trump’s new executive orders make plain that the administration considers any undocumented immigrant a suitable target for deportation. After green-lighting this broad deportation push, however, the order also calls for the prioritization of immigrants who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. At first glance, this mirrors the Obama administration’s “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP). PEP already applied an extremely broad definition of criminality that often swept in immigrants who had committed only minor offenses and innocuous immigration violations. However, Trump’s priority categories are vastly expanded even beyond the PEP. These “criminal” categories will now include:

  • Immigrants who have been charged with a criminal offense but whose cases have “not been resolved”— meaning that the administration will effectively assume automatic guilt for any undocumented person who lands in a court room or is charged by the police;
  • Immigrants who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” This could include virtually every undocumented immigrant who crossed the border without permission at some point in the past, as “illegal entry” and “illegal reentry” are technically chargeable as federal crimes.
  • Immigrants who have given false social security numbers to an employer or have driven without a license, both of which could be charged as crimes, but which are a daily necessity for people who live here without documentation and who must work and transport themselves in order to survive.

The executive orders also direct the Justice Department to devote more resources to “the prosecution of criminal immigration offenses,” which include such harmless immigration violations as “entry at an improper time and place” and “reentry of a deported alien.” Such non-violent immigration violations already make up the majority of all federal criminal prosecutions nationwide, but senior Trump administration officials, including Jeff Sessions, have long signaled a desire to prosecute these offenses even more extensively.

In these ways and others, Trump’s executive orders effectively criminalize undocumented people purely for their immigration status. Furthermore, the focus on deporting immigrants who encounter the criminal justice system—even those who are not ultimately convicted of any crime— will particularly harm Black, Brown, and Muslim immigrants who are most vulnerable to racial profiling, false arrest, and any overbroad deployment of police powers.

Read the first and final posts in our series on how Trump’s executive orders on the completion of a border wall will gravely impact asylum-seekers.

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