Last week, President Donald Trump admitted that his administration’s deportation agenda is “a military operation.” The United States is “getting really bad dudes out of this country. And at a rate nobody’s ever seen before,” he announced at a meeting with manufacturing-industry CEOs. “And it’s a military operation because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before and all of the things—much of that is people who are here illegally.” Trump’s words, however rambling, summed up the aggressive, wide-ranging policy being put into effect by his administration’s executive orders and the Department of Homeland Security’s recent memorandums.
Two weeks ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement undertook a series of splashy raids and arrested some 700 noncitizens for removal, and Trump has embarked on a rapid expansion of the country’s deportation machinery. But his recent boastfulness undercuts his own cabinet members’ attempts to portray his enforcement program as a more restrained affair.
DHS Secretary John Kelly, in a recent meeting that he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, said, “There will be no use of military forces in immigration.” Kelly added, “There will be no—repeat, no—mass deportations.” It was a reiteration of remarks that Kelly had made earlier that week in Guatemala. But despite his best attempts to ease the panic in immigrant communities across the United States, Kelly couldn’t distance himself from his boss’s grandiosity—or the reality laid out in Kelly’s own memos, released last week, that provide his department with guidance on how to implement the president’s executive orders. They make clear that the raids two weeks ago were just the beginning. The memos “are a guide for Trump to enact his mass-deportation agenda,” says Marielana Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “And actually, they are even more extreme than [Trump’s] rhetoric.”
The first thing that Kelly’s memos clarify is how his agencies ought to adhere to Trump’s executive orders, which call on immigration agents to enforce the law against “all removable aliens.” On February 22, Kelly insisted that enforcement would prioritize targeting “criminal offenders,” as prior administrations have done. But such a tiered system, which shielded some classes of undocumented immigrants from removal, is nowhere evident in his memos. In his memo translating Trump’s directive for ICE and the Border Patrol, Kelly orders those agencies to treat just about all undocumented immigrants as “priorities” for enforcement. Trump himself called for the DHS to go after nearly every undocumented immigrant, by pursuing those who (1) have been convicted of crimes, (2) have not been convicted but merely charged with a crime, (3) have committed any act that could be construed as a “chargeable offense,” (4) have used a fake Social Security number to work or pay taxes, (5) have availed themselves unlawfully of public benefits like food stamps or public assistance, (6) have a deportation order against them, or (7) pose a public-safety risk in the eyes of any immigration officer. These categories are so broad that they eliminate any veneer of “prioritizing” enforcement. The fourth category—using a fake Social Security number to work and pay taxes—is part and parcel of undocumented life. The seventh category offers immigration agents and law-enforcement officers so much discretion as to basically invite racial profiling. The second and third mean that immigrants will be particularly vulnerable in locales where policing and patrolling is discriminatory—which, in the United States, is many places.