The Department of Homeland Security has a new policy for increasing immigration enforcement. The policy is intended to identify, capture, and deport as quickly as possible any undocumented immigrant encountered anywhere by Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. The new approach means that no undocumented immigrant is safe from deportation.
Under the new policy, any undocumented immigrant anywhere in the U.S. who arrived in the past two years can be deported. Priorities for deportation have been expanded to now include any undocumented immigrant who is convicted of any crime, no matter how minor, or who has been charged with a crime, or who has committed an act for which they could be charged.
Adrian Florida of National Public Radio explained that “Because immigrants can technically face charges for entering the country illegally, [the policy makes any undocumented immigrant] a deportation priority just by virtue of being present.” Joanne Lin, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that “due process, human decency, and common sense are treated as inconvenient obstacles on the path to mass deportation.”
In efforts to avoid attracting the attention of immigration officials, undocumented immigrants are altering their routines. Some immigrant parents have signed legal documents so that in the event they are arrested by immigration agents, their relatives or friends are authorized to pick up their children from school and to access their bank accounts to pay their bills. Some carry wallet-size “Know Your Rights” guides in Spanish and English that explain what to do, or not do, if they’re arrested. Others start making phone calls when someone doesn’t come home on time.
Many immigrants have said they were afraid to drive; some are cautious about using public transit. Most look through the window if anyone knocks. Fewer day laborers stand on street corners looking for work. Some students have dropped out of school. Some low-income families have not re-enrolled in a food-assistance program. Church attendance is problematic, as are grocery shopping and medical appointments.
Immigrant advocates have advised immigrants not to answer questions about where they were born or about their immigration status. They’re also advised that if a knock comes, it is acceptable to slide a card under the door. Printed on one side of the card is the message, “To Whom It May Concern: Before answering any questions, I want to talk to an attorney.” One lawyer, advising immigrants to take steps to protect themselves, said, “Do not open the door to your home without seeing a warrant. Do not drive a car with broken tail lights. Do not drive at all at night.”
The Pew Research Center reports that in 2014, 11.1 million people were living in the U.S. illegally; 8 million of these people were in the labor force; and 66% of them had lived in the U.S. for at least ten years. More than half of the undocumented workers that year were from Mexico, 15 % were from Central America, and 13% were from Asia. Last Year, 242,255 immigrants were deported.