A nation of immigrants enters dark chapter

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Story highlights

  • Raul Reyes: New DHS orders vastly expand the pool of immigrants eligible for deportation
  • For Latinos, this may mean a greater threat of racial profiling

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors and writes frequently for CNN Opinion. The views expressed here are solely his.

(CNN)The deportation force is here. According to new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos, the Trump administration plans to vastly expand the pool of undocumented immigrants in the United States who will be targeted for removal.

Virtually everyone who is in the country without documentation is now eligible for deportation, and some in an expedited fashion. These memos, signed by DHS Secretary John Kelly, were rolled out on Tuesday.
There are two memos at issue here; one dealing with interior immigration enforcement, and the other with border security. They provide a scary picture of what life will soon look like for the estimated 11 million undocumented men, women, and children who live among us. But President Donald Trump's deportations won't necessarily make us safer, let alone "great again." Instead they are a mixture of harsh new policies and questionable ideas from the past.
    The most important thing to know about Trump's deportation force is that they will be going after everyone they can.
    Although the President likened the recent round of immigration raids to those carried out under Obama, these new memos specifically throw out Obama's 2014 deportation priorities, which were national security threats, dangerous criminals, and recent arrivals.
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    Now immigration agents can go after any undocumented person convicted of a crime, charged with a crime, or who an agent believes has committed a chargeable offense. While this may sound appealing to some, it defies law enforcement logic. With agents wasting time and resources going after undocumented moms, dads, and neighbors, it becomes easier for undocumented gang members, traffickers, and violent criminals to evade detection.
    And what happens to DACA recipients -- those brought to this country illegally as children and granted temporary deportation relief since 2012 under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy? Trump recently said that he wants to deal with their situation "with heart." He said that their situation is a "very difficult thing for me as I love these kids, I love these kids."
    Really? While the immigration enforcement memo leaves DACA in place for now, a footnote states that it will be addressed in the future. Moreover, the immigration enforcement memo notes that "The Department will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement." Taken together, this amounts to a chilling ambiguity for the 740,000 recipients of DACA. So despite Trump's expression of empathy, his memos say otherwise. At best, they tell these young people that immigration agents will deal with them later.
    The immigration enforcement memo outlines plans to expand the use of local law enforcement partnerships in fighting illegal immigration. If you think this sounds like a good idea, think again. These partnerships, known as 287(g) programs, were wisely phased out by the Obama administration because they did not work.
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    Deputizing local police and sheriffs to serve as immigration agents can lead to racial profiling and civil rights violations. It pulls them away from the real job of protecting their communities from crime. It directs local moneys to immigration enforcement action, which is a federal responsibility. Worse, it creates fear and mistrust of all law enforcement agencies among the immigrant community, which means that people will not come forward as witnesses to violent crime, as domestic abuse victims, or to report child abuse.
    The 287(g) programs also create the potential for local jurisdictions to run amok -- the most infamous example being Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio, recently defeated in a reelection bid, who was found by the Justice Department to have engaged in widespread constitutional violations.
    Arpaio's immigration enforcement squads were known to respond to complaints about Spanish speakers, or people with dark skin. His jails humiliated detainees, and punished them for failing to understand English. Last year, a federal court found him in contempt for refusing to stop racially profiling Latinos in his immigration sweeps.
    The border security memo is equally harsh. It throws out special protections for undocumented family members of those on active duty military. It makes it harder for asylum seekers to make their case -- as if the thousands of women and children fleeing Central American countries for their lives were trying to game the US immigration system.
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    The border security memo also advocates for an expansion of "expedited removals," a rushed process whereby people are deported without going before a judge. This would trample on the due process rights of undocumented immigrants -- protection they are guaranteed under the Constitution.
    It is true that Trump's successful presidential campaign was centered on the mean-spirited idea that all undocumented immigrants "have to go," and he is now poised to make good on that promise. Yet most Americans did not vote for Trump, and most Americans do not favor mass deportations. A PRRI poll found that 79% of Americans favor a path to citizenship or legalization for the undocumented, while only 16% favor deportations.
    What's more, when immigration enforcement ramps up, mistakes happen. A University of California, Berkeley study found that between 2008 and 2011, 3,600 US citizens were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the Secure Communities program -- a program Trump is bringing back. Sadly, what Trump does not realize is that we don't necessarily need more immigration enforcement; we need better immigration enforcement.
    Trump's immigration policies offer a troubling view of what lies ahead for immigrant families and their allies. For Latinos, this may mean a greater threat of racial profiling and the risk of being mistakenly caught up in enforcement actions. For all Americans, it marks a dark, disturbing chapter in our history as a nation of immigrants.