The White House is moving to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of immigration and Border Patrol agents by 15,000. Under rules issued on Tuesday, almost any undocumented person in the country could be detained and deported, even if they have never committed a crime. A traffic violation or mere suspicion of committing a crime could now be grounds for deportation. Any immigrant who cannot prove they have been in the United States for over two years could be deported without a hearing. Any migrant, regardless of their nationality, who crosses the southern border will be deported to Mexico while they await deportation hearings. The memos also call for the prosecution of parents who seek to reunite their family by using smugglers to bring their children into the country. We speak to University of Michigan Law School professor Margo Schlanger, who served as the head of civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, and Cesar Vargas, co-director of DREAM Action Coalition. He is New York state’s first openly undocumented attorney.
AMY GOODMAN: The White House is moving to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of immigration and Border Patrol agents by 15,000. Under rules issued on Tuesday, almost any undocumented person in the country could be detained and deported, even if they’ve never committed a crime. A traffic violation or mere suspicion of committing a crime could now be grounds for deportation. Any immigrant who cannot prove they’ve been in the United States for over two years could be deported without a hearing. Any migrant, regardless of their nationality, who crosses the southern border will be deported to Mexico while they await deportation hearings. The memos also call for the prosecution of parents who seek to reunite their family by using smugglers to bring their children into the United States.
One of the memos states, quote, "With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement." One exception to that are the DREAMers. According to the White House, protections will remain in place, for now, for some immigrants who came to the United States as children without papers, as long as they don’t commit any crimes.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president wanted to "take the shackles off" the nation’s immigration agents.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: The president needed to give guidance, especially after what they went through in the last administration, where there were so many carve-outs that ICE agents and CBP members didn’t—had to figure out each individual, whether or not they fit in a particular category, and they could adjudicate that case. The president wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say, "You have a mission. There are laws that need to be followed. You should do your mission and follow the law."
AMY GOODMAN: Many immigrant rights activists fear the memos will lead to the creation of a deportation force that President Trump talked about while running for president.
DONALD TRUMP: We are going to have a deportation force. ...
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: How are you going to pay for this?
DONALD TRUMP: It’s—very inexpensively.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Are they going to be ripped out of their homes? How?
DONALD TRUMP: Can I tell you? They’re going back where they came. If they came from a certain country, they’re going to be brought back to that country. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump being questioned by MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski in 2015.
We’re joined now by two guests. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan, we’re joined by Margo Schlanger, professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School. She served in the Obama administration as the head of civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security. Here in New York, we’re joined by Cesar Vargas, who is co-director of DREAM Action Coalition. He is New York state’s first openly undocumented attorney.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Cesar, your response first to what has been now presented by the Department of Homeland Security?
CESAR VARGAS: Well, foremost, we are seeing now a deportation force on steroids, because the fact is that the deportation force was created back, you know, with George Bush, but also strengthened with President Obama, who deported more people than any president in American history. So, Donald Trump has really taken the keys of this deportation machine, and refueling it and really aggressively pursuing and targeting every immigrant. And when he talks about "Not all. We’re just going to go after the bad ones, after the rapists, the criminals," well, he’s not targeting just those violent criminals, but he’s targeting potentially parents, hard-working children, students and veterans, who he claims to be a supporter of, champion of veterans. He is now about to deport veterans and the families of these veterans. So we are seeing Donald Trump taking the keys of an aggressive deportation machine, that President Obama created, and taking it over 100 miles per hour.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you, Professor Margo Schlanger, talk about what you think are the critical guidelines here and what they mean for millions of immigrants in the United States?
MARGO SCHLANGER: Well, the problem is, there really aren’t guidelines. What the president has done, and what DHS has now confirmed, is rendered basically every person who’s here out of status a prospect for deportation. And so, it’s everyone. If you read through what are supposed to be the priorities, they reach pretty much everybody. So, what used to be the limits on deportation, which was a combination of prioritization and capacity, the capacity of the system to process people, he’s gotten rid of the prioritization, and he’s amping up capacity in a bunch of different ways. He’s speeding the kinds of deportations that happen, without any court process at all. And he’s expanding detention massively to put people in detention while they wait for their court process. And he’s talked about now—the word that he uses is "surging" the judicial capacity in the immigration courts, which are these kind of administrative courts. So, pretty much we should expect to see anybody who’s not a DREAMer is now subject to the possibility of deportation. And the deportation machinery, it hasn’t ramped up yet, but it’s going to ramp up starting, you know, today.
AMY GOODMAN: How does, Margo Schlanger, this differ from what happened under President Obama? You worked for, ultimately, President Obama. You worked at the Department of Homeland Security.
MARGO SCHLANGER: Yeah. So, it’s true that President Obama inherited a kind of deportation capacity of about as many as 400,000 people a year and used that capacity for a number of years, although in the last two or two the numbers were down a lot. The difference was that the Obama administration set up specific priorities and tried to focus on people who had done something wrong in addition to being here out of status, as well as, I should say, very recent entrants, people who had only been here a few days.
So, what this is doing is it’s describing as recent entrants people who have been here up to two years, which is a pretty long time, and getting rid of the focus on the people who have done something wrong. So, instead of focusing, if you’re doing speeding enforcement on the people driving 95 miles an hour, now we’re going to go after people who are going 56.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, we spoke with Franco Ordoñez, the McClatchy reporter who first reported on the leaked DHS memos, asking him about the policies that we’re seeing now, may have been foreshadowed by a memo that the now sitting Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent to the Obama administration last year.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ: I got a hold of this letter that you’re referring to that Jeff Sessions wrote in July of 2016. And it basically outlines two of those most controversial points that we were talking about earlier. Jeff Sessions, in his letter, talked about the 60 percent of parents that—pardon me, the 60 percent of unaccompanied minors who come to the United States who eventually end up meeting with their parents, who are here illegally, and he specifically questioned then-Secretary Jeh Johnson and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch why they were not being, quote-unquote, according to them, "humanely" removed from the country. He also, in those letters, pointed out that their parents were subject to prosecution.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Franco Ordoñez, the McClatchy reporter who first reported on the leaked memo last year of Sessions, who is now the attorney general.
CESAR VARGAS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Cesar?
CESAR VARGAS: And see, that is the alarming part of what we’re seeing with this deportation force, is that Donald Trump’s style of managing has been always about "Well, this is what I want. You execute it." And what we’re seeing now is many staffers that used to work for Senator Jeff Sessions, Representative Bob Goodlatte, who was the chair of the immigration Judiciary Committee, who, many of them, have been immigration hawks, anti-immigrant policies, are now leading a lot of this execution. And Donald Trump is just signing all these executive orders or is just signing—the DHS secretary of homeland security is just signing this, without really realizing what’s in those things.
All Donald Trump just cares about is the show. He cares about just the signing ceremony. But he doesn’t really care what’s in those memos, particularly because now we—and specifically, we are seeing that Donald Trump’s recent DHS memos take away a lot of protections that very—that families, American families, rely. For example, I have many clients who are—the sons or children are in the military, spouses, but now they’re not going to be able to be protected because of the possible elimination of these programs. So we are seeing now American families, military families, who are no longer going to be able to apply for this type of protection to change their immigration status.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain what you mean by a military family.
CESAR VARGAS: So, for example, there’s a policy called parole in place that’s discretionary, that allows the U.S. government to say, "OK, you’re in this country without documentation. We are going to allow you to stay here, change your immigration to become a citizen, because you are the spouse or children of a U.S. servicemember."
AMY GOODMAN: So the servicemember could be right now in Afghanistan, in Iraq?
CESAR VARGAS: And now we’re seeing that many of these servicemembers, whether they’re Marines or Army—many of my clients tell me, "I’m more afraid of my government tearing my family apart than the foreign enemy abroad." And now, see, that’s exactly the alarming part that Donald Trump cannot see. And I don’t think he’s going to see, because he’s going to allow many of the underlings that work for Senator Jeff Sessions and many of these immigration—anti-immigration groups really leading the policy, and Donald Trump is just signing without really looking at what’s in the papers.
AMY GOODMAN: Cesar Vargas, what about you? You, yourself? You’re a lawyer. You’re representing immigrants who are threatened. But you, yourself, are threatened.
CESAR VARGAS: Yeah. And, you know, I do have DACA. And I am what people would consider a DREAMer. But I think, for me, it’s definitely living in a very different climate, because now my mom calls me, who is also undocumented, to make sure if I’m OK. I call her to make sure she’s OK. I give her a rundown of her rights. And it is definitely alarming. It’s a much more different climate of fear. And for me, you know, we cannot let fear dictate what we’re going to do in the next four years.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say you give her a rundown of her rights, what do you say if agents come knocking on your door?
CESAR VARGAS: Well, just as I’ve been doing Know Your Rights forums across the country, and particularly here in New York City on Staten Island, I give her a little card that says, "Mom, you have a right to remain silent. If an immigration agent comes to the door, do not open the door. Tell them to give you the warrant, and just say—you know, give them my number."
AMY GOODMAN: Will they have a warrant?
CESAR VARGAS: If they have. Right? And I think—she doesn’t know. She doesn’t speak English. But I tell her, "Just give her my number." But she calls me all the time, making sure that I’m OK. So this is the type of atmosphere that we’re living, where people without criminal records or people with minor criminal violations are really afraid and in panic, and because there’s also the—
AMY GOODMAN: And what about this issue of suspected crimes? I mean, if you’re charged with a crime, that’s not convicted. That’s included. Of course, if you’re convicted. Even if you’re suspected of a crime.
CESAR VARGAS: Yeah, and this is where we’re seeing an—
MARGO SCHLANGER: Yeah, it’s actually—
CESAR VARGAS: Go ahead.
MARGO SCHLANGER: Yeah, it’s actually worse than that.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Schlanger?
MARGO SCHLANGER: It’s actually worse than that, because it’s not just suspected of a crime. There’s also a piece of the prioritization which says if you’ve misled any federal agency about anything, which means if you’ve been working and you’ve used a fake Social Security number or anything like that, you’re probably—almost certainly, you’re within the prioritization. So, it’s pretty much everybody. I mean, you know, it’s—this is the end of prioritization. That’s what we’re watching. The only priorities that are staying unthreatened—and even then, they are threatened—but the only ones who are not explicitly threatened by the memo are the DREAMers. Everybody else is in the sights of deportation machine at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Daniel Ramirez, the DREAMer, the young man, 23 years old, who has DACA, in Washington state, he was imprisoned.
MARGO SCHLANGER: That’s right. The administration says that if somebody does something bad, commits a crime or is a member of a gang, they’re retaining the right to pull DACA away. And they say that’s true for Mr. Ramirez. His lawyers say that he was—that that’s completely false. And so they’re having that argument in front of a federal court right now.
AMY GOODMAN: The new DHS memos explicitly state that immigrants—immigrants protected under President Obama’s program DACA, as you said, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are exempt, but these new DHS documents come on the heels of this arrest of Daniel Ramirez. And I wanted to turn to a comment. We went to Washington state to talk to people there. His arrest alarmed immigrant communities, who still fear the Trump administration might target other DACA recipients. This is Paul Quinones of the Washington Dream Act Coalition.
PAUL QUINONES: If any of us had any doubt that Trump’s regime has declared an open war and open season on all immigrants in this country, that doubt should have evaporated by now. With Daniel’s arrest, we have seen the federal government breaking its promise and showing that it cannot be trusted.
AMY GOODMAN: Cesar Vargas?
CESAR VARGAS: We are seeing a—agents enforcing a broken immigration system, that is—does not—is not able to differentiate between someone who has been living here for many years, contributing to the economy, paying taxes, and someone who is a murderer. And I think that’s exactly the alarming part that we’re seeing in Daniel’s arrest, that it’s not just the violent criminals. It’s this artificial creation of the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant, that is entangling everyone.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have the situation where they say they’re going to take all of these immigrants and they’re going to deport them to Mexico, whether they’re from Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador, to Mexico. Is this going to mean refugee camps, deportation camps in Mexico? Right now you have both Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Kelly, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, who is going to meet with Peña Nieto. I mean, clearly, President Trump couldn’t meet with Peña Nieto, right? The Mexican president canceled his meeting with Trump. Margo Schlanger, if you could respond?
MARGO SCHLANGER: Yeah, so, I mean, we’ll see what happens with that plan. I mean, Mexico would have to agree to take all of these people, who aren’t from Mexico, who passed through Mexico to get to the United States. And I don’t, my own self, understand why they would agree to that. But just suppose it did happen. It’s an appalling idea. You know, the point of an immigration proceeding, the point of doing that in front of an immigration judge, is that some people have a claim to be here. And we have complicated laws where they are entitled to due process and to assert that claim and have it fairly adjudicated. If we first deport and then hold a hearing, it’s just—it’s a farce. The idea that that hearing is actually going to be accurately able to adjudicate their status is just—it’s laughable. And so, what we’re doing is we’re giving up—we’re substituting a pretense at due process for the real thing, even if Mexico agrees to take these people. And I don’t see why Mexico would agree to that.