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What the immigration crackdown means for the undocumented

February 21, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
The U.S. government is getting tougher on illegal immigration, starting with moves by the Department of Homeland Security to expand its criteria for prioritized deportation. Judy Woodruff speaks with Nancy Montoya of Arizona Public Media and USA TODAY’s Alan Gomez for more details about how it likely affects undocumented immigrants.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a deeper look now at today’s directives on immigration laid out by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Joining us from Miami, Alan Gomez. He’s an immigration reporter for USA Today. And from Tucson, Nancy Montoya, she is senior reporter on immigration on border issues for Arizona Public Media.

We welcome both of you to the program.

Alan Gomez, to you first.

You wrote today that this is going to mean a significant shift in the government’s deportation strategy. Just how big a shift are we talking about?

ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY: It’s really difficult to put into context just how big this is.

There’s many components of what President Trump is trying to do that he’s going to need help from Congress. When we talk about building a border wall, hiring 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and agents, hiring more Border Patrol, hiring more immigration judge, he’s going to need a lot of help from Congress on that.

But even if you put all of that aside, changes that were announced today in the Department of Homeland Security memos represent one of the biggest shifts in immigration enforcement that we have seen in a generation.

The pool of undocumented immigrants that are now available to be deported has vastly increased. The powers of immigration agents have vastly increased. The ability of local police to be deputized to carry out not just ICE functions, but Border Patrol functions, is now a reality and is something that’s going to increase.

So, when you look across the board at all the different changes that they make, again, it’s just really difficult to explain just how big of a change this is. Basically, most undocumented immigrants living in the country now are at a high risk of deportation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Montoya, is that what you see? You’re someone who has covered border and immigration stories for the last, what, several decades. What stands out here for you?

NANCY MONTOYA, Arizona Public Media: Absolutely.

Well, I agree with Alan that we are seeing a major shift in how immigration is functioning in the United States. It’s not just that the president is going to require help from Congress in order to implement all these changes.

It’s also the attitude of people around the world. How will they view America? I have been talking to folks along the U.S.-Mexican border all day long today. And I can tell you, in my nearly four decades of covering the U.S.-Mexico border, I have never seen such energy and such emotion coming from the border, and it’s not positive energy either.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan Gomez, there is a bit of a contradiction going on here, because, on the one hand, we hear the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, saying, no, we’re not talking about mass deportations.

But, on the other hand, there is an enormous amount of fear that’s being described in the reporting of those who have been talking to people who could be affected by this.

ALAN GOMEZ: And that’s because there’s a difference between saying that you’re going to target undocumented immigrants who have a criminal record and what else you’re allowed to do.

President Obama and President Trump have said the same thing, that their target for their limited deportation dollars are undocumented immigrants who have a criminal conviction on their background, who are gang members, who pose some sort of threat to national security.

But what is different under President Trump is that now there are more people who are deemed enforcement priorities. That means you don’t just have to be convicted of a crime. You can simply be charged with a crime, just be arrested and charged with that crime.

You can commit an act that an immigration agent deems is a deportable offense on his own and initiates deportation proceedings against you. And along the way, while ICE is conducting its operations, it is now ICE policy for the first time that anyone that they pick up along the way who just has purely immigration violations on their record can also be rounded up.


ALAN GOMEZ: So that’s why everybody is scared that it’s not just going to be criminal undocumented immigrants; it’s going to be the whole pool.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Montoya, how clear is all this to the people who are affected by it?

NANCY MONTOYA: It’s not clear at all.

In fact, I talked today with groups from DACA and DAPA, which are the deferred action folks, who are supposedly safe under these new orders. They don’t feel safe at all. In fact, they have told me that the — that President Trump has used up all his potential credibility when it comes to immigration issues.

They do not trust him. They do not believe that they are safe. Many of the DACA students, who are the dreamers, those who were brought here as children, told me today that there is still this fear.

However, going alongside of that fear is this renewed energy, because groups from all over the country, all over Arizona, are meeting, are working together, and so you are going to see a surge of protests like never before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, meantime, assuming they get the funding for it, Alan Gomez, the administration is talking about another 10,000 ICE immigration agents. There are already about that many, what, 12,000 immigration and Border Patrol officials, if you add it together.

So we’re looking at a doubling of the number of people who are going to be carrying out enforcement. What is that expected to mean?

ALAN GOMEZ: What that means is that, right now, if you’re an undocumented immigrant who is living in the United States under President Obama, the odds of you running into an immigration officer, the odds of a raid at your …

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean under President Trump. You said under President Obama. I think you meant under President…


ALAN GOMEZ: Yes, I was just …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Oh, you were making a contrast.


ALAN GOMEZ: Comparison. Yes, sorry.


ALAN GOMEZ: Basically, before, it was — the odds of you running into an immigration agent who was going to arrest you, detain you, and start initiation — deportation hearings was very low.

What this does is ramp that up dramatically. And it allows — and when you add the numbers — the numbers of more ICE agents with their new directives, and knowing that they can target anybody that they encounter on the street, you’re going to have what we have seen in the last couple weeks, which is panic.

There was a school in Corpus Christi that almost had to close down because there was a fear that there was immigration agents in the neighborhood. And so you are going to see more of them. And every time undocumented immigrants or those immigrant communities at large see ICE agents in the area, it’s going to create a panic in that community. And we’re going to see that repeating itself over and over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Montoya, is that what you think may be happening? And if that’s the case, what are the recourses for people who are out there who have questions? Do they feel they can even come forward and try to get those questions answered?

NANCY MONTOYA: One of the things that has amazed me is how the faith community has come together.

Back in the 1980s, there was something called the sanctuary movement that started right here in Tucson, in fact, at South Side Presbyterian Church. That’s when Central American refugees fleeing the violence of the civil war in Central America wound up in the U.S.

Now, just two or three weeks ago, South Side Presbyterian Church again has ignited the sanctuary movement. Right now, there are more than 2,000 churches, synagogues and mosques around the country that are calling themselves sanctuary sites, where people can go in and ask for help.

And I was asked, how do people find this? If you just Google sanctuary churches, you will be able to hook up with a church, a mosque in your area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan Gomez, finally, for those who have questions about this, where do they turn? Where can they go to get answers?

ALAN GOMEZ: That’s a very good question.

It’s — right now, the best thing you can — the only option you have right now is to look at the two memos the Department of Homeland Security put out there. The White House and Homeland Security have tried to provide some guidance. It took some prodding from us today for them to say on the record that DACA will remain and that those people who have those DACA protections, those will be honored.

So, yes, I think, a little bit like we saw with the travel ban a few weeks ago, we’re operating in a bit of a gray space, where we’re not quite sure how exactly all these orders are going to be implemented. We have a lot of questions about how specific aspects that we haven’t even had time to get into tonight are going to be implemented.

And I think it’s going to be like we saw with the travel ban, little by little, as things get tested, and as people fight back and sue the Department of Homeland Security in certain cases, that we’re going to really realize what this all means.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the NewsHour is going to continue to cover this very closely.

Alan Gomez, Nancy Montoya, we thank you.

ALAN GOMEZ: Thank you.