The headlines from President Donald Trump’s new immigration-enforcement memos are clear: in a sharp reversal of Obama-era policy, he wants to expand the number of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, hire thousands more immigration agents and restart a controversial program that automatically checked the immigration status of people in local jails.
Though draconian, the two memos released by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday were also expected: the executive orders Trump released five days after his inauguration had already outlined his broad crackdown on illegal immigration. The new guidance is just the “how-to” plan to make it happen.
But in the days since it was issued, immigration experts have been combing the documents to figure out the full impact — and buried in their 19 pages have found a number of small but important policy shifts that hadn’t been seen before. “There are real and meaningful changes ahead,” Michael Neifach, a lawyer who held senior positions at DHS during the Bush administration, wrote in an email.
The new policies could affect everyone from undocumented immigrants to local police to U.S. soldiers. What will they look like? POLITICO spoke with nearly a dozen immigration experts on the right and left, many of whom previously have held senior roles at the department. They highlighted four under-the-radar but important new shifts buried in the DHS memos:
1. Limiting “parole”
Immigration officials have long been able to use an immigration policy called “parole” to create some flex in the system, cracking open the door for noncitizens who technically aren’t supposed to enter the U.S., but who have some personal or political claim to leniency. The “wet-foot, dry-foot policy” that Obama ended in January used parole as the mechanism to allow Cuban immigrants to stay in the country if they made it onto U.S. soil. Another program, known as “parole in place,” allows close undocumented relatives of U.S. service members and veterans to apply for a green card without leaving the U.S., keeping military families together. Perhaps the most common use of parole, called “advance parole,” allows immigrants who are in the U.S. and applying to adjust their status — mainly applying for a green card — to travel abroad and return while their applications are pending.
To immigration critics, these broad policies amount to a systematic abuse of the parole system, which is supposed to be judged strictly on a case-by-case basis, rather than handed out to broad categories of immigrants. In what sounds like a slap at the Obama administration, one subsection of a memo says expanded use of parole “has contributed to a border security crisis, undermined the integrity of the immigration laws and the parole process, and created an incentive for additional illegal immigration.”
The new memo calls for parole to be used “sparingly” and directs the heads of the three main immigration agencies to issue regulations clarifying when parole can be used. How the immigration agencies will reform parole programs won’t be clear until they release final regulations; a DHS spokesperson did not respond to questions about the memos. But experts on both sides of the immigration debate believe the intent is to turn parole from an exemption that certain people can count on to an infrequent privilege — curtailing or eliminating many of these programs, including the “parole in place” program for U.S. soldiers’ families.
2. Targeting people who help unaccompanied children
The new DHS memo tries to discourage unaccompanied children from making the dangerous trek to the United States by cracking down on the people who finance the journey — which often means their own families. The memo calls for the prosecution and/or deportation of any individual who “facilitates the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child…