By Sam Brief, Medill, Immigrant Connect
David Marin is just doing his job.
“This is how we contribute to public security,” Marin says.
On April 18, MSNBC ran a segment featuring a “ride along,” with reporter Gadi Schwartz interviewing Marin, a Southern California-based immigration officer, as he prepared to detain an unauthorized immigrant in El Monte.
Marin is engaged in a stake out of a “serious criminal,” according to Marin. “He’s got convictions for robbery and for criminal threats,” Marin says on camera.
Marin and Schwartz sit in the car, waiting for the unauthorized immigrant to come out.
“What’s really changed is the spectrum of those criminal aliens,” says Marin, referring to changes under Donald Trump’s presidency. “In the previous administration, we were focused on a smaller group of criminal aliens. However, now we’re going after a much larger group of criminal aliens.”
Under Donald Trump’s presidency, the roles and responsibilities of immigration officers—known as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers—have been expanded, targeting many more unauthorized immigrants than were marked under the Obama administration.
Trump’s January 25 Executive Order, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” calls for the detention and deportation of unauthorized immigrants who:
- “Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved”
- “Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense”
- “Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency”
- “Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits”
- “Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States”
- “In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
Trump’s order targets a wide array of unauthorized immigrants. Perhaps the most telling point is the final one, in which Trump leaves an unauthorized immigrant’s risk to public safety up to “the judgment of an immigration officer.”
As a result, arrests of unauthorized immigrants have gone up 40 percent compared to the same period last year, according to The Washington Post.
In 2014, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, working in the Obama Administration, signed a memorandum titled “Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants.” The policies targeted a much narrower cast of unauthorized immigrants.
Johnson laid out three levels of civil immigration enforcement priorities, which demonstrated the types of unauthorized immigrants most at risk for detention and eventual deportation. He started with Priority One, which were threats to national security, border security and public safety, including terrorists and those convicted of felonies. Trump’s order goes after immigrants who have been charged, with the case yet to be resolved, while Johnson focuses on convictions.
Priority Two covered unauthorized immigrants who had committed three or more misdemeanors (not including minor traffic infractions) and those convicted of significant misdemeanors, such as abuse.
Finally, Johnson’s Priority Three highlighted unauthorized immigrants who had “other immigration violations.” Essentially, it listed those who had “been issued a final order of removal,” but had committed no other crimes.
According to Johnson— the Department of Homeland Security under Obama was tasked with using its resources to detain (and potentially deport) people in the three priority categories, barring “extraordinary circumstances.”
According to immigration attorney Emma Mahern of the law firm Muñoz Legal in Indianapolis, this is the most stark difference in the role of immigration offers under Donald Trump.
“The new priority is anyone who, under the jurisdiction of an individual officer, poses a threat,” Mahern said. “Now, anyone can be a risk. Sometimes, it’s based on an officer’s personality. An officer might focus on those convicted of battery or traffic violations. It can be based off of their personal interests. Another officer might focus on DUI cases.”
ICE officers are now targeting people who never thought they were at risk.
“It has widened their authority,” said Angela Joseph, an attorney from the same office as Mahern. “Now, someone who has been reporting to ICE’s office every year, who has no criminal history, now they are told, ‘Come back with tickets. If you don’t come back with tickets, we’re coming for you.’”
By tickets, Joseph means flight tickets—back to the person’s home country.
“They say, ‘Come to the police office, and show us your airfare and passport. Show us when you’re leaving the country,’” Joseph said. “This person has been in the country for 20 years. It’s a 100 percent turnabout from what they were doing two years ago.”
According to Joseph and Mahern, those with no criminal history but who had final orders for removal were not top priority under Obama. Now, they are. Some immigration officers even act on tips from citizens, they added.
With the changes, Mahern noted some differences in the cases coming to their law office, with a renewed sense of urgency.
“We have a lot of clients who have been waiting around for a while,” Mahern said. “Maybe they have a spouse who is a U.S. citizen, but they haven’t felt the urgency to get all of their documents together until now. We get a lot of calls about that.
“But ICE officers still only work their 40 hours a week. The federal budget is the federal budget. And we still have the same number of ICE officers in Indianapolis. They can only arrest so many people.”
Trump’s executive order also called for the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents as well as 10,000 more ICE agents. The 287(g) program, an initiative from ICE which allows local law enforcement to double as immigration officers, is also in the process of being ramped up by the Trump administration. He asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter into more partnerships involving 287(g), which would allow more police departments to have their officers trained and then serve as immigration authorities.
Many departments have responded. In March, David Clarke, a noted Trump advocate and sheriff of Milwaukee County who withdrew recently his appointment as an assistant secretary in DHS, had requested of DHS that his county officers have 287(g) authority.
However, some local police stations, such as the Evanston Police Department, play by a different set of rules. The City of Evanston is a “Welcoming City,” according to a 2016 ordinance, published just two weeks after Trump’s election victory.
The ordinance states that “no agent or agent shall condition the provision of … matters related to citizenship or immigration status unless required to do so.” The document adds that “The City of Evanston welcomes diversity and believes that all individuals living or visiting the City of Evanston should be treated fairly and with respect and dignity.”
Evanston Police Commander Joe Dugan, for example, has never seen an ICE officer target unauthorized immigrants. He’s been with the Evanston Police Department since 1997.
“I have been a police officer for 28 years,” he said. “And I have never seen someone from ICE or immigration come around looking for undocumented people.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged in April to cut off federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, which essentially limit their cooperation with ICE officers.
However, Dugan foresees no changes in his department’s day-to-day routine — emphasizing that the city ordinance trumps the president’s rhetoric and orders.
Dugan pointed to an incident he dealt with in Evanston in the months before Trump’s declaration of candidacy.
One of two Hispanic brothers, who was an unauthorized immigrant, was a witness to a gang-related shooting in the city, but he was afraid to step forward and give information. According to the other brother, who was not a witness, his brother didn’t want to be interviewed because he was in the country illegally.
“We sometimes need assistance from people who are here illegally,” Dugan said. “I don’t foresee anything changing for us.
“We don’t actively look for illegal immigrants. We treat everyone the same. We don’t ask anyone’s citizenship status. We don’t want anyone to be afraid to cooperate or have a victim who’s afraid to come forward because they’re here illegally. We’re supportive of equal treatment for all individuals, regardless of their immigration status. It’s in the city ordinance.”