Donald Trump

Stepped-Up Enforcement Likely to Make Undocumented Immigrants Hide: Experts

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly ordered his department to partner with state and local authorities to investigate, apprehend and detain immigrants

In El Paso, Texas, Carmen Ramos and her friends have developed a network to keep each other updated by text message on where immigration checkpoints have been set up.

She also makes sure she does everything by the book. From sticking to the speed limit to keeping a sharp eye on her surroundings, the 41-year-old isn't taking any chances, The Associated Press reported. In 2008, with her husband and three children, Ramos left Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for the United States to escape drug violence and death threats. But their tourist visas have since expired.

"We are surprised that even a ticket can get us back to Mexico," Ramos told the AP. "We wouldn't have anywhere to return."

The executive order that President Donald Trump signed his first week in office takes a harsh line on immigration, one that may lead to the deterrence of immigrants' participation in public life. With undocumented immigrants under the threat of deportation by local authorities, experts say it is likely that they will shy away from any situation that may require their personal information.

"I think what we’re going to see are immigrants receding from public life in lots of ways," Lee Gelernt, a civil rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC. "That includes not accessing emergency services and not reporting crimes they witness, which are not good for the community as a whole."

Gelernt said ACLU lawyers will challenge aspects of the executive order as they are rolled out, but for now the order has taken the form of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. The ACLU is trying to determine if there have been any civil rights violations, such as racial profiling or excessive force, during these raids.

The Department of Homeland Security is taking measures to enact the sweeping actions that Trump's executive order involves. 

Although Trump has said repeatedly that the country is focused on "getting the bad ones" out of the country, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly directed ICE agents to expand their pool of undocumented immigrants to prioritize for deportation. 

In the statement issued last week about the order, the department announced it would "not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” meaning that law enforcement officials can detain an undocumented immigrant who has committed an offense of any kind. In 2014, former President Barack Obama implemented guidelines for deporting unauthorized immigrants that focused on gang members and convicted felons.

Kelly also directed ICE to partner with state and local authorities to investigate, apprehend and detain immigrants.

"We don't want there to be this overwhelming sense of fear or panic in these communities," DHS press secretary Gillian Christensen said. "When you look at the executive order, it's still the top priority to detain people who pose a threat to public safety or national security."

Christensen also noted that undocumented immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals progam are exempt from the executive order. 

But lawyers and advocates are warning those immigrants not to enroll in DACA for fear their information will be used to deport them, according to The Washington Post. 

And some reported incidents suggest that ICE is taking a strict approach in its detention of immigrants. On Monday, The New York Times reported that Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, a well-respected restaurant owner in Illinois, was detained by authorities without a specific reason, but immigration officials noted his two drunk-driving convictions from 2007.

Another undocumented immigrant in Fort Worth, Texas, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early February while in an ICE detention center but was returned to the center following a short stint in the hospital. The Daily Beast reported that 26-year-old immigrant crossed the border in 2015 in search of work and asylum from her native country, El Salvador. And Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was deported to Mexico a few weeks ago after her immigration check-in—her eighth since her 2008 conviction for using a fake Social Security number to get work, CNN reported.

"Targeted enforcement, focused on actual national security threats, makes sense," William Stock, president of American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in a statement. "However, these memos, which seem to treat everyone as an enforcement priority, aren't going to make us safer, and they are already causing fear in communities across the nation."

Immigrants in the Chicago area have told the AP that they are scared to drive, and some are even wary of taking public transit. When Chicago police and federal authorities conducted regular safety checks on a train line earlier this month, many assumed it was an immigration checkpoint.

Word spread so quickly that Chicago police issued a statement assuring immigrants, "You are welcome here."

Gelernt expressed concern that the presence of the ICE agents during raids and arrests could instill fear in undocumented immigrants.

"Even if ICE is not making arrests at any moment their mere presence is going to create anxiety and fear," he said.

Michele Lamont, a Harvard professor and cultural sociologist who specializes in race, inequality and immigration, said that it would be natural for undocumented immigrants to fall into the shadows because of their perceived "undesirable" status.

"They know how they may be perceived by other Americans," she said. "The assumption that they're not good members of society can push people away from their own communities. If you know the likelihood that you will be outed, then of course privatization will be the natural reaction."

Lamont also said that Trump's executive order will likely come with "a lot of unintended consequences."

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