What you need to know about the Trump administration’s new immigration rules


New memos issued this week by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly brought President Trump’s promised crackdown on illegal immigration one step closer to reality. Kelly lifted nearly all restrictions on targeting the 11-million people in the U.S. illegally for deportation.

Here’s a breakdown of what happened:

Who is affected?

Immigration officers were directed to focus first on deporting convicted criminals or those charged with crimes. But Kelly also freed them to conduct more raids in immigrant communities and detain people who don’t have criminal convictions.

In addition to deporting those convicted of crimes, immigration officials will also target:

  • people in the country illegally who have been charged with crimes not yet adjudicated.
  • those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” That would include the 6 million people believed to have entered without passing through an official border crossing.
  • those who receive an improper welfare benefit.
  • those who committed minor infractions such as driving without a license.

When does this start?

Immigration officials can act on their new priorities immediately.

Among their first targets could be the more than 940,000 people who already have a final order of removal from an immigration judge and have either refused to leave or were allowed to stay temporarily, often because of the hardship their deportation would cause to family in the U.S.

Has the Trump administration already increased deportations?

It’s not clear yet. Although advocates have warned that recent raids appear to be a ramping up of immigration enforcement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials insist that they were long planned.

Deportation totals from Trump’s first few weeks in office won’t be known for months.

How many people were deported under the Obama administration?

Under President Obama, immigration officials increased deportations to an annual peak of about 400,000 people in 2012.

Following widespread outcry from immigration advocates, Homeland Security backed down on deportations, ordering agents to focus on expelling criminals, repeat immigration violators and recent arrivals. As a result, deportation totals fell to about 240,000 last year.

How will deportations increase?

Immigration officers were ordered to conduct more raids to find people charged with crimes or already ordered deported by a judge. Relatives, friends and others found during those raids who are in the country illegally could also be sent into deportation proceedings, even if they don’t have criminal records.

The Trump administration will also expand who is eligible for so-called expedited removals. Under these types of deportations, someone in the U.S. illegally can be removed without appearing before an immigration judge. The Obama administration limited them to people caught within 100 miles of the border within two weeks of entering the country.


The Trump administration is drafting a notice to be published in the Federal Register to greatly expand their use. Expedited removals will apply to people caught anywhere in the country within two years of arriving illegally.

How can that many people be deported that quickly?

Even without hiring more deportation officers, Trump could boost deportations by more than 75% during his first year in office just by returning to the level of deportations reached at the end of Obama’s first term, when about 400,000 people were deported in 2012.

And in the longer term?

Trump’s original executive order called for hiring 10,000 more immigration enforcement officers and 5,000 Border Patrol agents, as did Kelly’s memos.

Kelly also restarted a program called Secure Communities that notifies immigration agents when people in the country illegally are booked into local jails. In addition, the Homeland Security Department will expand a program in which local police help capture those violating immigration laws. Those programs were dialed back under President Obama over concerns they were used to racially profile suspects and sowed distrust between the immigrant community and police.

What happens to people who aren’t deported right away?

Kelly instructed immigration officials to expand the number and size of detention facilities to hold people awaiting hearings in immigration court as well as asylum seekers. More than 1,100 detention beds have been added since Trump was sworn in last month. Cases for people held in detention can move more quickly, and they can be deported faster than those released and told to appear in court.

Advocates for immigrants are concerned about the poor conditions in detention facilities, many of which are also local jails and have a track record of substandard medical care. Also, immigrants in detention facilities have a much harder time getting lawyers.


How do the rights of people in the U.S. illegally compare with those of citizens?

As with everything in immigration policy, it’s complicated.

Courts have upheld that everyone in the U.S. has a right to equal protection and due process before the law. For example, immigration officers can’t enter the home of immigrants in the country illegally without a warrant.

But once an immigration court has ruled a person can be removed, officers can lawfully detain and deport him or her. Close to the border, agents have more leeway to remove people without going through the immigration courts when they apprehend those who recently crossed into the country illegally.

Also, courts have ruled that children have a right to free public education, regardless of their immigration status.

I heard some people might be sent back to countries they only passed through.

That’s possible. The Trump administration is interpreting immigration law as allowing U.S. officials to arrest people who came into the U.S. illegally and send them back to the country they entered from while they await deportation proceedings — Mexico, in cases of illegal southern border crossings.

If implemented, that would leave people who are from other countries in limbo in Mexico, likely unable to find work or pay for shelter, while they wait for their court cases to play out.

But Mexico is unlikely to agree to receive people who aren’t Mexican citizens. Homeland Security officials said they were working with the Mexican government and the State Department to determine how to implement the guidance.


What about countries that refuse to accept deportees?

To clear the way for removals, Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been instructed to punish countries that refuse to accept people being deported, including by withholding visas from citizens and issuing formal diplomatic complaints, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

About 23 countries currently don’t accept deportations from the U.S., including Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Mexico is not among them.

Courts have ruled that people from those countries can’t be held to await deportation indefinitely, even if they have a violent criminal conviction. As a result, more than 8,000 immigrants with criminal records have been released in the past three years.

What about the border wall?

Kelly’s memos, echoing Trump’s immigration order, called for the immediate planning and building of a wall along the southern border, one of Trump’s major campaign promises.

The Border Patrol has already identified places for building new walls and fencing near El Paso, Tucson and El Centro, Calif., and is studying additional locations. Kelly has told lawmakers that Homeland Security will fill in gaps with ground sensors, surveillance blimps and other technologies that help detect illegal border crossings.

Border agents, he said, prefer barriers they can see through rather than a solid wall. About a third of the border, or 650 miles, already has fencing.


Who’s paying for all of this?

Though Trump has vowed over and again that Mexico would pay for the wall, its government has just as firmly refused to do so.

Building a wall and hiring additional deportation officers would require funds from Congress, and it is unclear whether Republican lawmakers will sign off on them. The White House is expected to ask Congress for the money as part of a larger funding request next month.

What about ‘Dreamers’?

Kelly did not specify how the Trump administration plans to deal with 750,000 so-called Dreamers, migrants brought to the country illegally as children and granted work permits under an initiative by President Obama — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Two-year work permits are still being granted to people who qualify and submit to a background check.

Trump has publicly wavered on whether to deport the Dreamers, and the White House has identified ways to remove them from the U.S. without Trump’s fingerprints.

And immigration officers now can charge parents who pay smugglers to bring their children into the country illegally with immigration violations.

Anything else?

Yes, a few things.

Top officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are encouraging federal prosecutors to lower the threshold for bringing criminal charges on immigration offenses. This would speed up deportations in the future if people already convicted of immigration violations are caught in the country again. ICE also plans to create a new office, the National Lead Development Center, to refer immigration fraud and benefit fraud cases to prosecutors.


Homeland Security will also establish an office to assist victims of crimes committed by those in the country illegally. Crime victims will be able to contact the new office to learn about the alleged offender’s immigration status and whether immigration officers have deported the person in the past. During the campaign, Trump met with family members of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally and invited them on stage with him at rallies.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

Twitter: @amyfiscus



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1:25 p.m.: This story was updated with a question about citizens’ rights.

This story was originally published at 1:05 p.m.