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Immigration Enforcement Under the Trump Administration

Rebekah G Grafton

By Rebekah Grafton

On Jan. 20, 2017, President Trump took office and began making immediate changes to immigration policies. Most widely publicized was an Executive Order regarding a 90- day ban on travel for individuals who were born in seven countries. That Executive Order is currently subject to a temporary restraining order, however, there were two other Executive Orders signed that have dramatically changed the landscape for immigrants currently in the United States.

CHANGING ENFORCEMENT PRIORITIES

One of the orders signed Jan. 25 concerned interior enforcement of immigration laws and specifically set forth an expansive list of individuals who are priorities for enforcement. For many years, immigration has targeted specific types of cases for enforcement because the government simply does not have the resources to prosecute and deport all immigration violators.

Under this new Executive Order, the categories are quite broad, even going so far as to include individuals who “have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved.” The other categories include those who have been convicted of criminal offenses; those who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; those who have made misrepresentations before government agencies; those who have abused public benefit programs; those with final orders of removal who have not departed the United States; and those who otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security. In addition to setting forth broad enforcement priorities, the order calls for additional agreements between law enforcement and ICE as well as an end to the use of prosecutorial discretion.

These changing priorities and increased enforcement have left many immigrants in this country feeling panicked and uncertain about what to expect. Reports from ICE raids across the country seem to indicate that ICE is focusing on immigrants with final orders of removal and criminal histories, however, agents seem to be questioning anyone who is willing to talk to them. While it is unclear whether enforcement is truly increasing, it is certainly clear that discretion is no longer being used and this is of great concern to immigrants who may have not previously been of any interest to ICE due to having only minor immigration violations.

WHAT SHOULD MY CLIENTS DO?

It is important to make sure that immigrants are aware of what rights they have during an encounter with ICE. Often, clients think they have to answer the door if an ICE officer knocks, but an ICE officer generally does not have an arrest warrant signed by a federal judge which would allow them to enter someone’s home. Additionally, clients want to explain their situation to an ICE officer, particularly when they may have a close relative, such as a spouse or a child, who is a United States citizen. It is important that immigrants know that they have the right to remain silent and that providing even basic information, such as the country in which they were born, may be giving an ICE agent the authority to arrest them.

It is also important to prepare for the unexpected, such as a criminal arrest. If an immigrant is arrested by a law enforcement officer for any reason, he may be questioned about his immigration status and that could also lead to swift moving deportation processes. It is important that the person’s family contact an immigration attorney immediately to allow preparation for requesting bond from an Immigration Judge and preparing to defend deportation.

WHAT ABOUT THE “TRAVEL BAN”?

While the Jan. 27 Executive Order, more widely known as the Travel Ban, is currently subject to a temporary restraining order, it is still subject to additional litigation. While the federal government was unsuccessful in obtaining a stay of that temporary restraining, that does not mean the end to the Executive Order. While no new Executive Orders have been published, the president has indicated that he may sign a new, similar order that is tailored to the decision issued by the Ninth Circuit. While the hope is that citizens and lawful permanent residents will be, and should be protected from any upcoming travel ban, the Trump administration is unpredictable and anyone who is considering traveling outside of the United States should speak with an immigration attorney before doing so. It is particularly important for lawful permanent residents to understand what rights they have at the border, specifically as it relates to signing any documents.


Rebekah Grafton leads the immigration practice at Fay & Grafton, with offices in Raleigh and Asheville. Before joining the firm, she served as a trial attorney for the Department of Homeland Security ICE division. She now puts her years of immigration experience to work for her clients. She regularly represents clients who are seeking benefits from USCIS, such as family-based visa petitions, adjustment of status applications, juvenile petitions, and visa petitions for victims of crimes. She also advises criminal defense attorneys regarding the immigration consequences a particular client may face as the result of a pending criminal charge and possible plea.