President Donald Trumpâ€™s plan to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants is likely to trigger waves of lawsuits that may soon dwarf the legal fight over the administrationâ€™s temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim majority countries.
The Department of Homeland Security is pushing ahead with what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls a â€œhyper-aggressive mass deportation policy.â€ The crackdown mandated by the presidentâ€™s January 25 executive order includes hiring thousands more border patrol and immigration agents and building a wall along the Mexican border.
The ACLU and other groups, fresh from their success in blocking Trumpâ€™s Jan. 27 ban on refugees and travelers and students from Syria, Iran, Yemen and four other nations, are vowing to challenge the crackdown on undocumented immigrants too.
Immigration attorneys said theyâ€™ve only begun to analyze the administrationâ€™s changes to rules surrounding immigration enforcement, which might take months, if not years, to fully take hold. Chicago lawyer Mike Jarecki said thereâ€™s â€œno doubtâ€ that the government will be swamped with litigation once enforcement of the revised policies begins. The planâ€™s biggest weakness, he said, is the potential for racial profiling and discrimination, since local law enforcement officers without proper training could be tapped to help identify and detain undocumented immigrants.
â€œThe memos make it very clear that they want to create an enforcement environment, and they donâ€™t want to just instill fear — they want to go after people, put them through the system and ultimately deport them,” Jarecki said.
White House Spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday that mass deportation wasnâ€™t the policy goal. Rather, the administration wants to clarify the rules for legal immigration while unshackling Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who had been â€œhandcuffedâ€ by policies that determined who â€œcould and couldnâ€™t be adjudicated.â€
Trumpâ€™s crackdown on undocumented immigrants may have economic consequences, such as straining an already tight US job market. One study suggests that removing all of them would cost the economy as much as $5 trillion during 10 years.
The residential real estate market may also suffer as immigrants have long been a pillar of growth in home-buying. One-third of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US live in a home that they or a family member or friend own, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Under President Barack Obama, regulations for undocumented residents only applied to criminal aliens, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Still, more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were deported during Obamaâ€™s two terms. Now, being in the US without papers will be the crime, Krikorian said.
â€œThe Obama approach of letting all illegal residents stay unless they did something wrong — thatâ€™s over,â€ said Krikorian, who thinks the administration should go even further and eliminate exemptions for children brought illegally to the US â€œYouâ€™re not going to ever have immigration law taken seriously if itâ€™s just considered an afterthought.â€
Much of the plan outlined on Tuesday in a pair of memos by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appears to enforce laws that are already on the books because many individuals who are in the US without documentation are legally removable, said Bryan Johnson-Xenitelis, a New York immigration lawyer with more than a decade of experience in the field.
Even so, there will be waves of lawsuits challenging the proposed expansion of the â€œexpedited removalâ€ process thatâ€™s already available under current law, he predicted. The proposal would allow ICE agents to deport any undocumented immigrant who has been in the US for less than two years, Johnson-Xenitelis said.