ProPublica’s Marcelo Rochabrun discusses an internal ICE memo that instructs officials to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants, including those without criminal records
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. As the Trump administration ramps up its deportations of undocumented immigrants, a newly published ICE memo has revealed that while officials have publicly stated they are targeting those with criminal records, deportation officers have privately been told to essentially detain and deport every undocumented immigrant they interact with. We’re now joined by the reporter who broke the story, Marcelo Rochabrun. He’s a senior reporting fellow ProPublica where he covers immigration. Thanks so much for joining us. Marcelo Rochabrun: Thanks for the invitation. Happy to be here. Jaisal Noor: As you reported, the memo demands that quote, “Effective immediately ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.” This of course flies in the face of numerous public statements by the Trump administration, which has said they are targeting people who pose a public threat. Here’s Donald Trump speaking to 60 Minutes shortly after the election. Speaker 3: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants? Donald Trump: What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers. We have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could even be three million. We’re getting them out of our country or we’re going to incarcerate, but we’re getting them out of our country. There here illegally. Jaisal Noor: Let’s get your response to the memo and how it flies in the face of public statements by Trump administration officials. Marcelo Rochabrun: Sure. I guess it’s basically the sentence that you read in an extremely powerful sentence, because it is so narrow and so explicit that this must happen. We had heard before from the Trump administration saying something that was still considered ramping up enforcement, which was that ICE officers may begin enforcement actions against undocumented immigrants that they encounter. This is what had been publicly said, this is what had been repeated over and over again. However, what this memo shows, and the memo isn’t new, the memo is from February so it’s been in place for a number of month, is that people who actually carry the deportations, there are about 5,700 of them who work under ICE, were not told that they may deport any undocumented immigrants they encountered, they were told they will deport them. As you can imagine it’s a crucial, crucial difference. It’s just one word change, but it makes all the difference in the world. Jaisal Noor: Trump has promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and he says that’s because they have criminal records. The problem with this is that there aren’t millions of undocumented immigrants with criminal records. That number is much smaller. If he’s going to follow up on this campaign pledge, he has to expand that net, and what a lot of people don’t understand is that being here if you’re undocumented is not a crime, it’s a civil offense. That’s really what is different about what he is saying and what he’s doing. Can you talk about that? Marcelo Rochabrun: Right. Like you said, not that many people know that merely being in the country without papers isn’t a crime. So when Trump and the administration talk that they want to deport criminals, in theory they’re not referring to people who are simply here without papers. That doesn’t mean that when the Trump administration makes the statements that they do that they’re taking such a rigorous approach to the words that they’re using. We have seen plenty of evidence that they’re trying to deport anyone that they can find, and in many cases the lowest hanging fruit is not those who have criminal convictions, but those who are just out in the communities without harming anyone. Jaisal Noor: We’ve seen this happen countless times already in the last few months. We’ve seen women who are going to court to testify because they have been sexually assaulted or raped, and we’ve seen them being targeted with deportation. We’ve seen people that have just done their normal check in with ICE officials, they being detained and then being deported. WE know Obama was the depoter in chief, but this is clearly an escalation of the immigration policies that led Obama to deport a record number of immigrants, but this is really sort of changing how ICE approaches this. You talked to former Obama administration officials and they seemed alarmed by this as well. Marcelo Rochabrun: Right, I spoke with Sarah Saldaña, who was the last head of ICE under Obama, and what she said was basically what we’ve been seeing everywhere, that one, changing the word may into will, we will deport people, makes all the difference in the world. Two, that it is uncommon to see career officials implementing a political directive like Trump’s immigration executive orders, and rather than interpreting it by the letter of the word, they’ve taken it a step up from we may deport you, to we will deport you. In theory, you would want someone either in the White House or at the Department of Homeland Security to say, “You’ve taken this a step too far. This is not what we told you to do. You’re doing something different.” However, the expectation from both Sarah Saldaña and others who have worked at ICE is that there is no one in the White House or the Department of Homeland Security who have any intention of saying that this is not what the Trump administration’s policy is. This is you taking it a step further. Jaisal Noor: We’ve seen the impacts in communities across the United States. Immigrants who, as studies show actually commit crimes at lower rates than native born residents, are living in fear. They’re afraid to report crimes, which makes them more easily targeted by crimes, and it drives them further underground, away from services they need, away from reporting sexual assault or rape in those cases. We know this is having a tangible and real impact on vulnerable communities across America. Can you comment on that as well? Marcelo Rochabrun: Right, and fear is something that was pretty much caused also by the ambiguity in the Trump administration’s statements and actions. They were saying that they’re still prioritizing people with violent criminal records, but at the same time we see that on the ground anyone can be deported and is subject to deportation. Now we know why, that there was this memo that told ICE officials that they must be deported, that they must go and find people to be deported, and that is what changed everything. Jaisal Noor: Alright, Marcelo, thank you so much for joining us. We’re going to link to your new piece in ProPublica. You broke the story about how ICE has privately or secretly told its officers to deport basically anyone they can get their hands on that is undocumented. Thanks so much for joining us. Marcelo Rochabrun: Thank you very much. Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.