Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly confirmed Sunday that federal immigration authorities won’t shy away from arresting illegal immigrants who would have been ignored under the Obama administration.
New categories of criminal aliens will be targeted for deportation, not just those who’ve committed headline-grabbing crimes like rape and murder, Kelly said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Someone, as an example, with multiple DUIs,” he said, is the kind of illegal immigrant that would draw attention from immigration authorities. “Even a single DUI, depending on other aspects, would get you into the system,” he added.
Responding to questions from Todd about what constitutes a “criminal” under President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement policies, Kelly said DHS now considers illegal aliens with any type of criminal background as a priority for removal.
“It is fair to say that the definition of criminal has not changed, but where on the spectrum of criminality we operate has changed,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s comments echoed those made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his tour of the southwest border Tuesday. Speaking to Border Patrol agents in Nogales, Ariz., Sessions said immigration enforcement is going to change under the Trump administration.
“For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era,” Sessions said. “This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch and release practices of the past are over.” (RELATED: ‘THIS IS THE TRUMP ERA’: Sessions Announces New Push To Prosecute Illegal Immigrants)
In a memo issued to Department of Justice attorneys nationwide, Sessions instructed prosecutors to prioritize cases against illegal aliens who have re-entered the U.S. after prior deportation, which is a federal felony. Going forward, he added, the misdemeanor crime of unlawful entry will be prosecuted as a felony if a suspect attempts to enter the U.S. a second time and aggravating circumstances such as gang ties are present.
Kelly said Sunday the measures are about upholding the rule of law, not creating a climate of fear or using Immigration and Customs Enforcement to intimidate communities as immigrant rights activists have charged.
“You have to remember that there’s a system, a legal justice system in place,” he said. “And the law deports people. Secretary Kelly doesn’t. ICE doesn’t. It’s the United States criminal justice system or justice system that deports people.”
Kelly urged lawmakers to simplify and streamline convoluted immigration laws that make enforcement more difficult for DHS officials in the field.
“It’s a hugely complex series of laws, and I engage the Hill quite a bit and get an earful about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do,” Kelly told Todd. “But it all comes down to the law. I would hope that the Congress fixes a lot of these problems.”
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