Immigrations and Customs Enforcement file photo

How Trump Is Changing Immigration Enforcement

The president’s directive on immigration might resemble the record deportations of Obama’s first term—but without the corresponding push for legalization.

In his first week in office, President Donald Trump acted on his core campaign issue: immigration. In a short span of time, the president signed executive orders calling for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and a crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities,” which limit collaboration between local authorities and federal immigration agents.

The orders fell in line with Trump’s repeated pledge to control illegal immigration in the United States and suggested that Trump will likely pursue an immigration agenda that resembles the aggressive deportations of former President Obama’s first term. The Obama administration deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants, much to the frustration of immigrant advocates. In his first term alone, he deported 1.5 million undocumented immigrants. By the end of his tenure, Obama had deported more people than his most recent predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, though the number of deportations dipped after his second term. There was also a corresponding push for legalization under the Obama administration—and that push is absent from Trump’s order. 

Obama’s successor has already put forth new, more stringent criteria for deportation. With the establishment of a new deportation program in 2014, the Obama administration sought to prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants who broke the law over those who did not. That year, the Department of Homeland Security created the Priority Enforcement Program, which focused on undocumented immigrants who posed a threat to “national security, border security, and public safety.”

“The intent of this new policy is to provide clearer and more effective guidance in the pursuit of those priorities,” wrote then-Department of Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson in a 2014 memo.

The Obama administration’s new approach meant scrapping the Secure Communities Program, in which local law enforcement shared digital fingerprints of people booked into jail with federal authorities, who would then determine whether an individual was in the country illegally and whether to pursue deportation. The program originated in the George W. Bush administration and had received backlash from city officials, who said it was driving a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they police. “Its very name has become a symbol for general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws,” Johnson wrote in a 2014 memo.

The executive order signed by Trump last week, dubbed “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” adopted a priority system that is far broader than the previous administration’s after 2014. Trump’s order specifically names “aliens who have been convicted of any criminal offense; 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; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

The language used in the order suggests that an individual does not need to be convicted of a crime to be considered for removal. That goes further than the Obama administration’s 2014 directive, which explicitly noted that to be considered a priority for deportation, an undocumented immigrant must be convicted of an offense. “The enforcement priorities are much more loose,” said Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank focused on immigration. “[Trump] is casting a wider net.”

The Trump administration also intends to reinstate the Secure Communities Program, despite the friction it caused between local authorities and the communities they protect.

Clarissa Martínez De Castro, the deputy vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at National Council of La Raza, said Trump’s revival of the program—and the broad language used in listing priorities—indicates that he has a different perspective from that of his predecessor. “When the executive orders that you are putting on the table are predicated aggressively on misinformation or outright lies about the immigrant community, I think there’s a huge gap,” she said.

“Obama’s stated goal was to reform the system, bring people out of the shadows, put them on a path to citizenship, so it didn’t make sense to advocates that he was pursuing Secure Communities,” as well as another federal program that involved local authorities, Appleby said. 

Also included in the executive order are measures to penalize “sanctuary cities,” or jurisdictions that adopt policies to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. During his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to block federal funds to such jurisdictions, a measure he included in the order. Sanctuary cities, the text reads, “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

It’s not clear what federal grants that includes, but withholding them may take the administration into precarious legal territory. As Lena Graber, a special projects attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told me earlier this month, Supreme Court precedent, like the 2012 ruling that upheld Obamacare, might present an obstacle. That ruling found that the Affordable Care Act’s withdrawal of Medicaid funds for states that did not agree to expand Medicaid was unconstitutionally coercive.

But the text of the order itself also presents its own limitations. Rick Su, a law professor at the University at Buffalo who studies immigration and local government, noted that the Trump administration used Section 1373 to define what constitutes a sanctuary city. That section says that any government entity or official who decides to voluntarily collaborate with federal immigration agents cannot be prohibited from doing so. It does not, however, require communication between local and state governments and federal immigration agents.

The Obama administration also put pressure—though arguably at a lesser degree—on sanctuary cities to cooperate with deportation requests, a move that garnered support from conservatives. Last year, the administration announced a policy that would require authorities to turn over undocumented immigrants who have finished their sentences in federal prison and are eligible for deportation.

Still, the federal government is largely dependent on local authorities to identify individuals who may be in the country illegally and turn them over to federal immigration agents.

Trump appears to have noted that limitation in his executive order. “[There was] a lot of bluster and talk about penalizing sanctuary cities, but for all the extreme positions, the order recognized that the president’s power is arguably quite limited,” Su said. This might also be true for the creation of the Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens, which would issue reports “studying the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens” in the country. Presumably, that office would also rely on data from local authorities. Congress might, too, present a hurdle, as they would need to approve funding to implement these proposals.

Still, anti-immigrant groups appear to be pleased with the administration’s orders. “The president’s decision to strip federal funds from dangerous sanctuary cities is also a welcomed move,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement released in response to the executive orders. “While this action will not bring back the thousands of innocent lives lost or destroyed by reckless sanctuary policies, it will go a long way to making sure this senseless and preventable carnage doesn’t continue.”

While Obama’s and Trump’s immigration-enforcement policies are not identical, neither one is free from challenges, whether that be funding issues or pushback from communities and advocacy groups. “In the end,” Appleby said. “We’ll have to look at the numbers and see where both presidents were after their first term.”

NEXT STORY: The Underrated Art of Persuasion

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.