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  • Article: Immigration Enforcement Priorities Have Been Abandoned—and That’s Bad News for Everyone By Walter Ewing for Immigration Impact

    Immigration Enforcement Priorities Have Been Abandoned—and That’s Bad News for Everyone


    In order to effectively fight crime, law-enforcement officers must gain the trust of the communities they intend to serve. Trust encourages victims of crime, as well as potential witnesses, to come forward and help solve cases and prosecute criminals.

    However, according to our latest analysis, the Trump administration has abandoned this approach by not prioritizing immigration cases and offenses based on the level of their severity. Prioritization simply means that law-enforcement officers initially focus on getting dangerous people off the street (like murderers), before turning their attention to people who are not a threat (such as workers without criminal records who overstayed a visa in order to get a job).

    More precisely, the administration has expanded the list of “enforcement priorities” to the point that there aren’t any priorities in practice. At present, nearly any non-citizen who has ever been convicted or charged with a criminal offense is a priority. It doesn’t matter whether the conviction or charge was for bank robbery or entering the United States without inspection.

    The administration immediately outlined their shifting immigration enforcement priorities in a January 2017 executive order. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subsequently issued a memorandum implementing the executive order , mandating that all DHS personnel “shall faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States against all removable [individuals].”

    This approach to immigration enforcement represents a major departure from the policies in place during the Obama administration.

    For instance, the “ Morton memo ”—a June 2010 memo from then-Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton—created three priority levels: 1) threats to national security or public safety (which included just about any immigrant with a criminal conviction of any kind); 2) undocumented immigrants who recently crossed the border; and 3) immigrants who didn’t heed a previous order of removal, or who re-entered the country after being deported.

    Though the system was far from perfect, the Morton memo was a concrete attempt to inject some rationality into what would otherwise be an utterly chaotic immigration-enforcement system.

    Morton subsequently issued two more memos in June 2011 that offered guidance on the exercise of discretion . The primary memo stated that any deportable immigrant encountered by immigration authorities should be assessed on the basis of length of time in the United States, presence in the country since a very young age, education, military service, social ties to the United States, and age. In addition, this memo emphasized that “particular care” be taken with cases involving veterans, long-time legal permanent residents, children and elderly individuals, victims of domestic violence or trafficking, and people with serious health conditions.

    In the absence of such prioritization, finite law-enforcement resources are wasted on the apprehension and removal of people who represent no danger to public safety.

    Just as importantly, immigration enforcement without priorities needlessly tears apart U.S. families, communities, and workplaces. To attempt to remove all undocumented immigrants from our country’s social fabric, without prioritizing those who pose a danger, needlessly harms millions of other people, immigrant and native-born alike.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. © 2018 Immigration Impact. All rights reserved.

    About The Author

    Walter Ewing Walter Ewing, Ph.D., is Senior Researcher at the American Immigration Council. In addition to authoring numerous reports for the Council, he has published articles in the Journal on Migration and Human Security, Society, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, and the Stanford Law and Policy Review. He also authored a chapter in Debates on U.S. Immigration, published by SAGE in 2012. Mr. Ewing received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School in 1997. Follow him on Twitter @WalterAEwing.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      Walter says, "In the absence of such prioritization, finite law-enforcement resources are wasted on the apprehension and removal of people who represent no danger to public safety."

      It's not about public safety. It's about enforcing the immigration laws, which I suspect is not something Walter wants the government to do. And the law can't be enforced effectively with the restrictions that Obama created with his enforcement memos. I explain in my article, "
      On illegal immigration, Trump ends Obama's 'home free magnet,' http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blo...amas-home-free

      Nolan Rappaport
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      With all due respect to a distinguished immigration law authority such as Nolan Rappaport, it's not about enforcing the immigration laws either. It is a cardinal principle of immigration law that the executive branch has wide discretion over the way in which it chooses to enforce the immigration laws and which factors it chooses to take into account. Nolan seems to be equating deportation with "enforcement" and any other policy toward any given unauthorized immigrant or immigrants as "non-enforcement".

      This kind of simplistic view is not consistent with the broad discretion of the executive branch over immigration enforcement which the courts have upheld from the time of the infamous Chinese exclusion laws up to now.

      To the contrary, the main goal of the Trump administration is not about "enforcing the law", or "ending the magnet for attracting illegal immigrants" These are little more than mere slogans. Trump's real goal is about making America white by carrying out mass deportation and exclusion of brown-skinned immigrants. For The Guardian's report on a lawsuit that the ACLU is reportedly about to file in federal district court in San Francisco claiming that the Trump administration's cancellation of TPS for 200,000 immigrants is part of larger, unconstitutional white supremacist anti-immigrant
      agenda, see:


      The same thing can be said about the Trump administration's abandonment of immigration enforcement priorities. With due respect to Walter Ewing also, why does he omit any discussion of the obvious racial implications of Trump's deportation policies? Do we not deserve better from two noted and respected immigration scholars than this kind of shadow-boxing in which the most important issue of all is not even mentioned?

      Roger Algase
      Attorney at Law
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