The travel ban, extreme vetting, and vastly increased deportations of undocumented immigrants were all sold to us under the theory these methods would eject the worst of the worst from our country and keep those worsts from returning. In the president's own words, these tactics were not supposed to turn the entire US into Maricopa County, Arizona with a few thousand mini-Sheriff Arpaios running "get the brown out" fiefdoms.
That isn't how any of this has turned out. The travel ban the government's lawyers insist isn't a ban is being contested in court, even as the president himself repeatedly refers to it as a "ban." Extreme vetting has morphed into greater intrusiveness for everyone at the borders, even US citizens. The TSA -- under new DHS leadership -- has raised and abandoned a variety of new boarding measures, each one seemingly more invasive than the last.
Mission creep is the mission, as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has (inadvertently) made clear.
A new document received by ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request demonstrates that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has adopted a policy that conflicts with both President Trump’s executive order (EO) and public Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines on immigration enforcement. I commented for the story, which you can read here.
The bottom line is that the memo shows that for months, ICE has been requiring agents to arrest all unauthorized immigrants whom they “encounter,” regardless of whether they are otherwise priorities for removal. Previously, ICE had admitted that it sometimes arrests non-prioritized immigrants, but this memo goes much further, requiring them to do so in all cases.
Presidential directives and DHS memos have given ICE plenty to work with. Both insist on prioritizing deportations but contain enough wiggle words like "may" and "shall" that ICE can toss prioritization out the window without severely distorting the guiding directives. But a plain reading of the obtained ICE memo shows the agency completely disregarding outside guidance. ICE would rather deploy its limited workforce as inefficiently as possible.
Under the Trump EO, no one is “exempt” from potential removal, but officers are instructed to use their discretion to focus on those who fit these priorities. Notably absent from this list: every unauthorized immigrant “encountered” by an ICE officer.
This wording is in the excutive order for two reasons: to avoid legal challenges and to prevent manpower waste. ICE apparently feels it's been ordered to toss out every immigrant agents come across, whether or not they pose a safety risk and/or have a criminal record.
The ICE memo [PDF] cuts the waffling fat from the EOs and directives:
Effective immediately ERO officers will take action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.
The memo belatedly tries to hedge this sentence by instructing officers to apply their better judgment to alien encounters. Personal discretion can be a wonderful tool, but it's blunted by the first sentence, which contains no wiggle words: only the word "will." Trying to reconcile contradictory instructions is more likely to result in officers feeling the first sentence overrides the guidance following it. ICE's new prime directive is REMOVE ALL.
As Cato's David Bier points out, the ICE memo has "rogue agency" written all over it.
The memo proves that the agency wants to have as few limits as possible on its authority, and it believes that no one in the White House or in DHS will stop them, even when it ignores their orders. This effect is not new to the Trump administration. ICE flouted the executive actions of President Obama as well. It is new, however, to see that the agency is spelling out its defiance in written instructions to its agents. This makes sense given that the agency’s performance metrics are mainly the quantity of removals, not the quality of removals.
When all you care about is numbers, safety is a distant priority. ICE won't be removing the worst of the worst. It may eventually, but only after it's booted everyone standing between it and the targets it's been ordered to remove.