Since February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been required to take action against all deportable immigrants they encounter, even those without criminal records, ProPublica reported today.
Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division, issued a directive on February 21, instructing his staff of 5,700 deportation officers that “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.” This includes undocumented immigrants without criminal records, as well as visa holders and legal permanent residents who have had any run-ins with the law.
Through President Donald Trump’s executive orders and Department of Homeland Security John Kelly’s comments to the press, the current administration has been working to create implicit links between immigrants and criminality. One of Trump’s first executive orders, issued just five days into his term, declared any immigrants who have been convicted of, charged with, or had even committed a crime as priority for deportation — including those who are in the country legally. In March, ICE began publishing lists of crimes committed by immigrants on its website, as well as publicly shaming so-called sanctuary cities for failing to comply with detainer requests in a weekly newsletter. A month later, the Department of Homeland Security launched a hotline to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.”
On the ground, ICE officers have seemingly arrested any “removable aliens” they can get their hands on. Immigration arrests have increased 32 percent since this time last year, the Washington Post reported in April, and the arrests of undocumented immigrants without criminal records has increased by a staggering 150 percent in the same timeframe. Half the immigrants picked up by ICE in the first two months of Trump’s term either had no criminal records or had committed traffic offenses like driving without a license or DWIs.
An ICE spokesperson told ProPublica that Albence’s directive was consistent with DHS director Kelly’s aims to target immigrants who pose a public safety threat, but experts disagree. ICE officers were previously told they “may” conduct immigration arrests upon encountering deportable immigrants, but they weren’t required to do so. Albence’s memo, which says officers “will” take action against deportable immigrants, essentially means ERO officers are required to arrest any undocumented immigrant they encounter, as well as legal permanent residents and visa holders with criminal records.
“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” Sarah Saldaña, who served as head of ICE under Obama, said of the memo. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone like Matt Albence comes back and says ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration.”
ICE officers have taken to arresting immigrants in courthouses, including the high-profile arrest of an undocumented woman in El Paso, Texas, who was arrested by ICE after filing an order of protection against an abusive ex-boyfriend. In New York, a high schooler was arrested by ICE just a few hours before his senior prom last month, and in Mississippi, an undocumented DREAM Act advocate was arrested by ICE just a few hours after speaking about her immigration status at a press conference in March.
Police departments across the country have cited fewer reports of sexual assault and domestic violence in Latino neighborhoods as evidence the Trump administration’s ramped-up deportations have created a “chilling effect” in immigrant communities and eroded the trust immigrants have in local law enforcement.
Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE who in June said undocumented immigrants “should be afraid” of the Trump administration, has previously acknowledged that the agency is now targeting all deportable immigrants, regardless of criminal status. “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 earlier this year. “You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.“