Is Trump building a blueprint for mass deportation?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents take part in an immigration raid Feb. 7 in Los Angeles.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents take part in an immigration raid Feb. 7 in Los Angeles. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

It may not yet be the mass deportation that activists have been warning about.

But it appears inevitable that many more undocumented immigrants will be swept up by the Trump administration’s more aggressive enforcement.

The groups at risk of deportation have been expanded dramatically by President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive orders and the enforcement memos issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to targeting undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes – a perfectly appropriate step and the focus during most of the Obama years – federal agents will prioritize people guilty of any crime and those who have abused public benefits. They also have the leeway to detain those who have merely been charged with a crime, or have done something for which they could be charged. Agents also have been instructed to arrest and start deportation proceedings against any undocumented immigrant they encounter.

And if Congress approves the money – an estimated $4.8 billion a year – there will be 10,000 more Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents and 5,000 more at Customs and Border Protection. This looks suspiciously like the “deportation force” the White House has insisted it won’t create. It certainly is a significant expansion of government.

To make America safer, it is perfectly sensible to arrest and deport dangerous felons – the “bad dudes” Trump loves to talk about. There are instances of terrible crimes by undocumented immigrants. Luis Bracamontes is accused of murdering Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr. in 2014. An undocumented immigrant is charged with shooting 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle to death as she walked with her father on the Embarcadero in San Francisco in 2015.

But there is no evidence of a crime wave, much less one caused by undocumented immigrants, to justify widespread roundups. Instead, what the Trump administration is doing will disrupt our communities, damage our economy and further divide America. It is a pale substitute for the real immigration reform we desperately need.

Since California has more undocumented immigrants than any other state – an estimated 2.6 million of 11 million nationwide – the crackdown is likely to hit here hardest.

So is the fear, which Trump only worsens by calling the raids that rounded up nearly 700 immigrants earlier this month a “military operation,” as he did Thursday.

It’s easy to see scenarios where being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a raid could lead to deportation of undocumented immigrants who have lived and worked here for many years. There are more than 4.5 million children who were born here and are U.S. citizens, but who have at least one parent who is undocumented. Does he really want to divide families?

It’s small consolation that, at least for now, Trump had the compassion and political good sense not to go after “Dreamers” – those 750,000 young people, including 216,000 in California, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and are protected by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order.

In a misguided move, the Trump administration is seeking again to enlist local police and sheriff’s departments in immigration enforcement by expanding a federal program that allows state or local officers to be designated as immigration officers.

Rightly and thankfully, many law agencies in the Sacramento region and California are going to pass. The Placer and Yolo County sheriff’s departments told The Bee’s editorial board that while they will cooperate with ICE on dangerous criminals, they don’t have the resources or personnel to do front-line immigration enforcement.

This position extends to Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. There was some uncertainty because Jones supports Trump and met earlier this month with the acting ICE director. The sheriff clarified that while he regularly allows ICE agents into the jail to check inmates, he doesn’t intend to change his policy on patrols.

“We never ask about someone’s immigration status, participate in immigration sweeps or checkpoints, or enforce immigration law in any way,” he said in a statement.

ICE isn’t going to get much cooperation with disputes like the one in Santa Cruz, where officials say they were misled into helping in a Feb. 13 anti-gang operation only to learn that immigration arrests were also made.

As local law officers know, we’ve been down this road, and it didn’t go well. Local law enforcement was deputized under the Obama administration’s similar Secure Communities program, but departments found that it eroded trust with residents and advocacy groups said it led to racial profiling. Obama ended it in 2015 after six years, and replaced it with the priority enforcement program that Trump just canceled.

In Obama’s eight years, a record 3.1 million undocumented immigrants were deported, including more than 240,000 last year.

Trump hasn’t made a plausible case for why these numbers should increase significantly. Instead, he is is playing to his base supporters. At least in California, however, a majority of voters favor state and local action to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s moves on immigration will not go unchallenged. Advocacy groups plan to go to court. Mexico has made clear it won’t accept detainees the U.S. wants to send across the border until immigration court hearings. Elected officials and activists are closely watching how this stepped-up enforcement plays out.

The White House keeps dismissing concerns that it plans mass deportations. But as its strategy is rolled out, you have to wonder: Why else go to all this effort and expense?