WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has issued tough guidelines to widen the net for deporting illegal immigrants from the US, and speed up their removal.
Undocumented immigrants arrested for traffic violations or shop-lifting will be targeted along with those convicted of more serious crimes.
The memos do not alter US immigration laws, but take a much tougher approach towards enforcing existing measures.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.
The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new blueprint leaves in place Obama-era protections for immigrants who entered the US illegally as children.
But it expands the more restricted guidance issued under the previous administration, which focused its policy on immigrants convicted of serious crimes, threats to national security or those who had recently crossed the border.
The DHS plans to hire an extra 10,000 agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 5,000 more border patrol officers to enforce the new guidance.
The two memos released on Tuesday by the agency suggest individuals apprehended in the US would need to prove that they have been in the country continuously for two years.
Otherwise, agents could expedite their removal with no court proceeding.
Some of the new priorities include: expanding deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been charged with a crime, misrepresented themselves, pose a risk to public safety, or “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits” – effectively allowing agents to arrest any illegal immigrant they encounter; end US policy to release those caught on the border and instead place them into detention centres until their cases are resolved; call for authorities to prosecute parents who help smuggle their children into the country; allow planning to begin on an expansion of the border wall along the US southern border
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wrote in one of the memos: “The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States.”
Mr Kelly’s memo also includes instructions to enforce an existing provision of the US Immigration and Nationality Act that allows authorities to send some people caught illegally at the border back to Mexico, regardless of where they are from.
It is unclear whether the US has authority to force Mexico to accept foreigners.
The DHS guidance is a blueprint to implement executive orders that Mr Trump signed on 25 January, days after taking office.
The new guidelines did not explain how Mr Trump’s border wall would be funded and where undocumented immigrants apprehended in the crackdown would be detained.
The memos instruct agents to “allocate all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities”, but Congress would probably need to allocate money to build new detention centres.
Mr Trump’s immigration policies have prompted protests on both sides of the border. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in more than a dozen Mexican cities last week to protest against the new president’s plan for a border wall.