Despite White House assurances that immigration agents will not target so-called Dreamers brought to the country illegally as children, a series of tweets on the official U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Twitter account have left analysts scrambling to decipher their meaning and whether they foreshadow a government crackdown.
The four tweets were posted within a minute on Thursday and warned that President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is not a protected immigration status and recipients can be deported. The tweets noted that 1,500 DACA recipients lost their status since the program began in 2012 under Obama due to criminality or gang affiliations.
A senior White House officials said the tweets do not represent any change in policy, but merely reiterated that anyone involved in or associated with criminal behavior should not expect to be protected from deportation.
“Removing criminal elements is a priority. Removing DACA recipients is not, but when there are cases where someone is engaged in criminal behavior or affiliated with criminal behavior then there are no grounds for protection at that point,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. “And that was the case during the previous administration.”
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Removing criminal elements is a priority. Removing DACA recipients is not, but when there are cases where someone is engaged in criminal behavior or affiliated with criminal behavior then there are no grounds for protection.
Senior White House official
There have already been a few cases of DACA recipients being apprehended that have generated headlines and lawsuits. Some experts see the tweets as an attempt by the administration to get the public used to the idea that more DACA recipients will be apprehended as part of increased enforcement.
“ICE doesn’t want to continue having a debate whenever a DACA person is uncovered in one of these operations whether they’re exempt from enforcement,” said Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general who headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration under Obama.
Despite the administration’s assurances that those brought to the country illegally as children are not a priority, Trump’s immigration directives have left little room for many DACA recipients to feel safe.
Trump has said the roughly 750,000 immigrants currently protected by the DACA program shouldn’t be concerned, but such statements appear inconsistent with the recent executive order that dismisses the idea of protected classes of immigrants and expands the definition of who is considered a criminal.
McClatchy first reported that young people who’d received protection under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were likely to be apprehended as part of anticipated Trump administration enforcement actions.
They want to have it both ways.
Marielena Hincapié, National Immigration Law Center
U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement said Wednesday that immigrants granted deferred action from deportation are not protected by any kind of legal status, but are typically given a lower level of enforcement priority.
“A decision to grant deferred action may be revoked by DHS at any time, particularly in the case of someone who commits a crime or is otherwise found to pose a national security or public safety threat,” said a DHS official who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “Deferred action does not, in any way, prevent DHS from moving forward with execution of a removal order.
Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old with no criminal record, was taken into custody in Seattle as part of last month’s raids that led to the arrest of 680 people, 75 percent of whom, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said, had been convicted of a crime.
The Trump administration charges that Ramirez was a gang member, but his lawyers charge ICE with running a “smear campaign.”
“Daniel has been in detention for more than a month without ever being charged with a crime, and to this day the government has shown us no evidence that he has done anything wrong,” said Ethan Dettmer, one of Ramirez’s attorneys.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus accused the administration with dangerously ratcheting up fear in the community via the tweets.
“For the administration to behave in such a hostile manner toward them is unacceptable,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. “Since the DACA program began, these young people have had an enormous effect on educational and employment outcomes and have been a major driver of economic growth – for individuals and families, as well as cities and states. We should strive for more sensible, fair, and compassionate immigration policies like DACA, not threaten to rescind them.”
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said the tweets merely confirmed what she believes has always been the case – DACA recipients are at as great a risk as anyone at possibly being deported.
“They want to have it both ways,” Hincapie said. “They want to be able to say that DACA is a low priority, but also DACA doesn’t give you protection. Which is why we have been saying is that everyone is a priority.”
The White House said current policy is no different from what it was under Obama, but that no one paid much attention then.
“It’s not anything unique to this administration,” the official said. “If that person happens to be covered under DACA as was the case during the previous administration, they’re not exempt at that point.”