Within days of being sworn into office, President Trump signed executive orders calling for tougher enforcement of immigration laws and increased border security.
Critics say these new orders from the Department of Homeland Security put every undocumented immigrant in this country at risk of being deported. It’s been called a "mass deportation blueprint."
The White House, however, says the priority will be to deport people who have committed a crime, or who pose a “threat to our public safety.”
Brad Thomson, an immigration attorney based in Ann Arbor, joined Stateside to help make sense of those two opposing views.
“A plain reading of the memo actually includes not only unauthorized documents,” he said. “But under the Immigration Nationality Act, the term ‘alien’ means any person not a citizen or national of the United States. So this order, read black and white, could potentially apply to permanent residents, anyone here on a work visa and obviously anyone who is here undocumented.”
Thomson said the most surprising aspect of these orders is the “sheer volume of people that will be affected.”
“If estimates say that there’s somewhere between eight and 14 million undocumented people, the majority of these undocumented immigrants have legal citizen family members – I would estimate two or three per family,” he said. “So taking those numbers, you’re looking at literally 10% of the population will be affected directly.”
In terms of how the orders will be enforced, Thomson said he’s not sure where funding will come from.
To deport everyone who is a priority for deportation in this memo, he said it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
In addition to cost, Thomson also isn’t sure how the government will process so many people through the removal process.
“The law still states that you have your right to your day in court if you’re here in the United States and you get picked up by immigration,” he said. “For example, right now, there’s more than half a million pending immigration court cases across the country. The average pending case is two years. I had one case in my office that had been pending for eight years.”
In Michigan, Thomson said only three immigration judges and around a dozen government attorneys now work in the immigration court.
“The memo addresses a lot of additional resources for officers to place people into removal proceedings and to try to execute the deportation of them,” he said. “But what I’m curious to see is how the courts and immigration customs enforcement are going to adapt to the realities of the large volume of people that will be in removal proceedings."
But despite these potential barriers to implementation, people are scared.
“There’s been an absolute earthquake of fear and anxiety, pretty much from every single client that is calling my office... and it’s not just the undocumented immigrants, but it’s my clients who are in the middle of the process,” he said. “They’re terrified too as to how this memo will affect their immigration process.”
Thomson said he “absolutely” expects an increased rate of deportations to come.
For the full interview, including why he said these orders will “absolutely not” solve the issue of illegal immigration and more, listen above.