DHS Immigration Raids Reverse Policy of Deporting Felons, Not Families


The Department of Homeland Security has begun launching raids against undocumented immigrants with recent orders of deportation. This reversal of prioritization shifts DHS’s focus to those who pose the least threat. The planned raids won’t focus on people with criminal backgrounds, or those who are threats to national security. Instead, they’ll be targeting families fleeing horrifically violent conditions in Central America – people who had no choice but to run.

Despite Donald Trump’s ignorant comments to the contrary, it is not possible to detain and deport every undocumented immigrant. It’s not even a simple matter to determine who is deportable and who isn’t – evinced best, perhaps, by the overworked dockets of immigration judges across the country. That’s why there must be sensible prioritization of removals.

Even as deportation levels reach record numbers, under the Obama administration there has been some shift toward detention and removal of people with criminal backgrounds. Every memorandum laying out prioritization of removal schemes since 2010 has prioritized this category of people. Recent entrants without criminal records were generally considered by DHS relatively lower priority for removal. On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced sweeping executive actions on immigration. One of these was a superseding memorandum revising the prioritization of removals. Under that memo, people with outstanding orders of removal issued after January 1, 2014 would be “Priority 3” – the lowest tier. That memo is still in effect – but these are the people DHS seeks to target after New Year’s.

Going after the lowest priority cases – families, including children, fleeing horrific terror in Central America – is beyond farcical. What happened to focusing on national security threats (Priority 1) or those with criminal backgrounds (Priority 2)? We expect our law enforcement officers to protect us. For every child they spend our tax dollars to detain and deport, there is one more person with a serious criminal background who walks free.

These types of “psyop” announcements only serve to increase distrust of law enforcement among immigrant communities, which weakens the effectiveness of law enforcement itself.

It’s odd that DHS would allow such information to become public so far in advance. On the bright side, it provides an opportunity to advise these families that they do not have to answer the door for ICE unless there’s a warrant; even if there is a warrant, they do not have to talk to ICE agents, or even give their name. They have an absolute right to talk to a lawyer, and that’s absolutely what they should do.

Many people with orders of removal aren’t necessarily at the end of the road. These orders are often improperly issued without due process, leaving them vulnerable to legal challenges . Mislabeled notices, improper service, coercion, and woefully inadequate legal representation are some of the main reasons these orders can be cancelled. For many people DHS seeks to target, deportation can and will be halted.

What, then, is DHS trying to prove, going after children and families? Is this an attempt to “secure the border,” and gain the support of impossible-to-please immigration restrictionists? Calls to “secure the border” are illusory; there are no coherently defined metrics to determine when the border would be secure. (John McCain tried once, saying only “I’ll know it when I see it.”) Meanwhile, Tashfeen Malik slid into the US because there were insufficient resources to properly vet her. Congress’ response? Calls to tighten the K-1 visa program Malik used to enter the US, even though Malik had many other ways to enter the country. Maybe it would be a good idea for DHS to call off these raids, and start employing its resources towards vetting incoming immigrants.

DHS had been moving in the right direction by focusing on high-priority cases. The 2016 raids of families turn sound policy on its head. Deport felons, not families.

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Hassan Ahmad is an immigration lawyer in Northern Virginia. 

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