WASHINGTON, Feb 22, (AFP): The Trump administration issued tough new orders Tuesday for a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants, putting nearly all of the country’s 11 million undocumented foreigners in its crosshairs.
The orders sent shivers through US immigrant communities, where millions of people who have spent years building families and livelihoods in the country, most of them from Mexico and Central America, were seriously threatened with deportation for the first time in decades.
Rights groups labeled the move a “witch hunt,” warning that mass deportations would damage families with deep roots in the United States and hurt the economy. But John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who issued the new orders in two memos, said they were necessary to address a problem that has “overwhelmed” government resources. “The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border hoverwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,” he said in one of the memos. Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned the new guidelines will “harm national security and public safety.”
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said he refused to turn the city’s police officers into immigration agents or its jails into “holding pens for deportation policy that will only undermine the inclusiveness that has helped make New York city the safest big city in the nation.” The new rules make it easier for border patrol and immigration officers to quickly deport any illegal immigrants they find, with only a few exceptions, principally children.
The priority will remain undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, as well as anyone who has been charged or potentially faces criminal charges. However, people deemed as low priority for deportation by the previous administration of Barack Obama — generally anyone not tied to a crime — are no longer protected. “With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” the memos said.
“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States.” The memos followed up on President Donald Trump’s order, issued just after his Jan 20 inauguration, for authorities to crack down on illegal immigration by tightening enforcement and building a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,145-km) US-Mexico frontier.