By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On June 17, President Donald Trump once again caught White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials off-guard with two tweets indicating that the mass removal of illegal immigrants would begin within a week. A senior administration official told CNN that many in DHS were unhappy because the president essentially announced an operation before was put in action. However, Trump insisted that top immigration officials were aware of the deportation initiative he was referring to.
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In his first tweet on June 17, Trump stated, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in.” In his second tweet, he indicated that Guatemala was getting ready to sign a “safe third country” agreement, and criticized Democrats as not doing anything to alleviate the border crisis.
New Wave of ICE Roundups
Despite some members of the administration feeling blindsided, on June 19, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed his agency is preparing for a new wave of roundups to apprehend and deport families with open orders of removal, according to CBS News. Mark Morgan indicated this initiative was meant to act as a deterrent to migrant families planning the journey north. However, unlike Trump, Morgan did not provide a timeframe for scope for the operation. He said that a priority would be placed on removing people placed in an expedited docket in the immigration court system, but failed to report for their hearing.
President Obama Holds The Record
While it may sound drastic, the mass removal of illegal immigrants is not new. Former President Barack Obama holds the record for the removal of illegal immigrants in the United States. In 2012, ICE removed approximately 410,000 illegal immigrants. Last year under Trump, ICE removed more than 250,000 immigrants. Although Trump claimed that millions would be deported in this latest operation, logistically that would be impossible due to manpower limitations. Notably, he posted these tweets only hours before he was due to publicly announce his reelection campaign at a rally of 20,000 supporters.
Another issue that makes this deportation initiative sound more massive than it is in reality is the varying legal status of large groups of immigrants currently in the United States illegally. The majority of the 10.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States are visa overstays. There is a backlog of hundreds of thousands of asylum cases awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, so those migrants can’t be removed until a judge rules on their cases. There are also many mixed-status families with at least one member who is a US citizen. The future of the DACA program and DREAMers are also in limbo.
However, it seems that the top priority for deportation by ICE will be the more than one million illegal immigrants who have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges and who remain at large in the country. Trump has been looking at Obama-era policies of prioritizing migrant families for deportation as a way of deterring the flow of illegal immigrants to the border. Morgan mentioned that roughly 95 percent of the migrants who crossed the southern border in 2017 and were released on their own recognizance have not been removed, suggesting they will be among those targeted for these operations.
All this being said, while Trump stated in his tweets that ICE would begin these removals next week, a senior administration official told CNN this initiative is still in the planning phase. Specifically, the official said the operation is “not imminent.”
Also by Sylvia Longmire: North Dakota Border Wall Contractor Under Scrutiny For Trump’s Preferred Treatment