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President Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants begins at Homeland Security

A U.S. Border Patrol agent detains an undocumented immigrant near the U.S.-Mexico border on Jan. 3 near Mission, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

By Meg Wagner

10,000 new immigration and customs agents

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released details on Tuesday about how it plans to implement President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on undocumented immigration.

The two memos from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly lay out the department’s plans to follow through on Trump’s January executive orders on border security, expanding the number of immigrants considered top priorities for removal and speeding up the deportation process.

Under the new plan released Tuesday, any immigrant living in the U.S. illegally who is charged with or convicted of a crime will be considered a priority for deportation. Kelly also called for an expansion of the U.S.’s expedited removal process.

To support the revved-up policies, Kelly directed DHS to hire 10,000 new immigration and customs agents.

Having faced fierce opposition from immigrants and advocates to the president’s executive orders, the Trump administration insisted that the latest plan is not a means to mass deportations.

“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” a DHS official who spoke anonymously said Tuesday on a call with reporters, according to the Washington Post. “This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer echoed the sentiment at Tuesday’s press briefing. When asked if one of the memos’ goals was mass deportation, he responded with a swift “no.”

More aggressive policies than Obama

Kelly’s implementation memos pave the way to making Trump’s executive orders on immigration enforcement and border security a reality. The president signed three orders in January: one   approving the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border wall; another calling for more border patrolling; and a third ramping up the prosecution of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.

The memos — which do not change U.S. immigration law, but do more aggressively enforce existing laws — mark a sharp change in policy from former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Under Obama, security officials focused on deporting immigrants convicted of serious crimes or who posed national security threats. The Tuesday orders call for the prioritized deportation of any immigrant charged with nearly any kind of crime.

The plan also means that more immigrants will be eligible for expedited removal, which allows the U.S. to remove certain immigrants without a court hearing.

Now, any immigrant living in any state who can’t prove that he or she has been in the U.S. for two continuous years will be subject to the expedited deportation process. Previously, only immigrants who had been in the U.S. for two weeks or less and were found within 100 miles of the border faced such removal.

The orders spared one community of immigrants from the crackdown. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to stay, will — at least for now — remain in place.

Immigrants bracing for repercussions

The memos mean that the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants are at risk of deportation, activists said. And while the White House insisted that mass deportation was not the goal, pro-immigration activists quickly rebuked that assertion and claimed that the orders made Trump’s campaign and transition promises tangible.

“These memos lay out a detailed blueprint for the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. They fulfill the wish lists of the white nationalist and anti-immigrant movements and bring to life the worst of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric,” Lynn Tramonte, the deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, an immigration reform group, said in a statement.

Advocates said that they feared the impact will be immediate.

“We are bracing ourselves for increased raids, increased detention of our family members, of our community members,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of National Immigration Law Center, said.

In a call with reporters, Hincapie said that her team is ready to do “everything necessary to ensure that these policies don’t get implemented,” although she did not elaborate on if that could mean legal action.

But at least one of Trump’s executive orders has already faced challenges in court. Trump’s move banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. was swiftly faced with immediate lawsuits. On Feb. 9, an appeals court ruled against Trump’s order and refused to reinstate it.