Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has signed sweeping new guidelines that empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport illegal immigrants inside the United States and at the border.
In a pair of memos, Kelly offered more detail on plans for the agency to hire thousands of additional enforcement agents, expand the pool of immigrants who are prioritized for removal, speed up deportation hearings and enlist local law enforcement to help make arrests.
The new directives would supersede nearly all of those issued under previous administrations, Kelly said, including measures from President Barack Obama aimed at focusing deportations exclusively on hardened criminals and those with terrorist ties.
“The surge of immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,” Kelly stated in the guidelines.
He cited a surge of 10,000 to 15,000 additional apprehensions per month at the southern U.S. border between 2015 and 2016.
A White House official said the memos were drafts and that they are under review by the White House Counsel’s Office, which is seeking some changes. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process is not complete, declined to offer specifics.
In a series of executive actions in January, President Trump announced plans to make good on his campaign promises to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to ramp up enforcement actions against the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Kelly’s memos, which have not been released publicly, are intended as an implementation blueprint for DHS, formally establishing the new policies and directing agency employees to begin following them.
However, many specifics of achieving the goals of Trump’s executive orders remain unclear. For example, Kelly’s memos direct federal officials to seek all available funding for the border wall, but most of the funds, estimated at more than $20 billion, must be appropriated by Congress.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, was sworn in to oversee the Department of Homeland Security hours after Trump was inaugurated Jan. 20. His memos are copied to officials at Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman declined to comment on the documents but did not dispute their authenticity.
The memos do not include measures to activate National Guard troops to help apprehend immigrants in 11 states that had been included in a draft documentleaked to reporters on Friday.
DHS officials said Kelly, whose signature did not appear on the draft document, had never approved such plans.
Immigrant rights advocates said the two memos signed by Kelly mark a major shift in U.S. immigration policies by dramatically expanding the scope of enforcement operations.
The new procedures would allow authorities to seek expedited deportation proceedings, currently limited to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for two weeks or less, to anyone who has been in the country for up to two years.
Another new provision would be to immediately return Mexican immigrants who are apprehended at the border back home pending the outcomes of their deportation hearings, rather than house them on U.S. property, an effort that would save detention space and other resources.
The guidelines also aim to deter the arrival of a growing wave of 155,000 unaccompanied minors who have come from Mexico and Central America over the past three years. Under the new policies, their parents in the United States could be prosecuted if they are found to have paid smugglers to bring the children across the border.
“This memo is just breathtaking, the way they really are looking at every part of the entire system,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
Joanne Lin, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that “due process, human decency, and common sense are treated as inconvenient obstacles on the path to mass deportation. The Trump administration is intent on inflicting cruelty on millions of immigrant families across the country.”
The memos don’t overturn one important directive from the Obama administration: a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that has provided work permits to more than 750,000 immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
Trump had promised during his campaign to “immediately terminate” the program, calling it an unconstitutional “executive amnesty,” but he has wavered since then. Last week, he said he would “show great heart” in determining the fate of that program.
The memos instruct agency chiefs to begin hiring 10,000 additional ICE agents and 5,000 more for the Border Patrol, which had been included in Trump’s executive actions.
Kelly also said the agency will try to expand partnerships with municipal law enforcement agencies that deputize local police to act as immigration officers for the purposes of enforcement.
The program, known as 287(g), was signed into law by the Clinton administration and grew markedly under President George W. Bush’s tenure. It fell out of favor under the Obama administration.
Currently 32 jurisdictions in 16 states participate in the program, according to Kelly’s memo.
Kelly called the program a “highly successful force multiplier,” and instructed his deputies to expand it “to the greatest extent practical.”
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents federal agents and officers, had not seen the memos as of Saturday afternoon. In an interview, he said his organization fully supports the Trump administration’s agenda on border security.
Judd said he thinks the effort to crack down on enforcement is already paying dividends. He said that apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, one of the heaviest traveled areas of the border, have fallen by about 1,000 between the first two weeks of January and first two weeks of February.
Those figures could not be independently corroborated by The Washington Post.
Judd attributed the purported decline to fear among immigrants of the new Trump administration policies, including requirements that those who are apprehended will not be released before their immigration court hearings.
“They’re heading in the right direction,” Judd said.