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U.S. Politics New Trump order expands number of immigrants in U.S. crosshairs

People participate in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policy in New York City on Feb. 11, 2017.

STEPHANIE KEITH/REUTERS

The Trump administration has ordered an immigration crackdown, vastly expanding the number of immigrants – both undocumented and legal – targeted for deportation and boosting the powers of enforcement officers to kick people out of the country. A pair of memorandums from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly Tuesday instruct immigration officers on exactly how to enforce one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign pledges.

Immigration officers will now be able to swiftly deport – without a hearing in an immigration court – any illegal immigrant found anywhere in the United States who cannot prove he or she has been in the country longer than two years.

Previously, this "expedited removal" process was only used for illegal immigrants within 100 miles of the border who had been in the country less than 14 days. Any legal immigrant who is suspected of a crime, has lied to authorities or has "abused" government benefits will also be targeted for deportation. Previously, only legal immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes were targets for removal.

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Read more: Immigrant communities in the United States brace in face of new crackdown

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"The President wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these [immigration enforcement] agencies and say: 'You have a mission, there are laws that need to be followed. You should do your mission and follow the law,'" Mr. Trump's spokesman, Sean Spicer, told reporters after the memos were issued.

While the memos are certain to strike fear in many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, experts say, they may be logistically tough and prohibitively expensive to enforce – with billions of dollars' worth of policing and court costs attached.

And they could touch off a further wave of protests and court challenges, such as the one that met Mr. Trump's block on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, which was suspended by the courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union vowed Tuesday to fight the new order. In a statement, the ACLU's immigrants' rights project director Omar Jadwat said "the courts and the public will not allow this un-American dream to become reality."

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The President's instructions also call for most undocumented immigrants to be held in detention while their cases are processed. They provide for hiring 10,000 more immigration agents and 5,000 more border guards and order the Department of Homeland Security to begin planning and building a wall on the border with Mexico.

The orders do not, however, change the status of the country's estimated 1.8 million "dreamers" – immigrants who were brought in illegally as children by their parents. The Trump administration is leaving in place Barack Obama's policy that deferred deportation for undocumented immigrants born after June 15, 1981, who entered the United States younger than 16 and before 2007.

Whether Mr. Trump can actually make mass deportations happen is an open question.

An estimate last year by the American Action Forum found it would cost at least $420-billion (U.S.) to track down all of the country's undocumented immigrants, deport them and strengthen the border to keep them out. The conservative think tank also estimates that the deportations would slash private-sector economic output by at least $382-billion by taking away the 6.8 million of those illegal immigrants who have jobs.

Mae Ngai, an immigration historian at Columbia University, said the cost alone – and the possible reticence of Congress to approve such spending – would make complete deportation of all undocumented immigrants unlikely.

Instead, she predicted the government would stage high-profile immigration enforcement raids to send a message.

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"This message plays to two different groups: Immigrants, to frighten them and even encourage them to self-deport. The other is for [Mr. Trump's] base, to reiterate this hard-line position, to show that he's tough," she said in an interview.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration lawyer and Cornell University professor, said expanding the number of legal immigrants targeted for deportation could clog the court system, where it already takes an average of 2 1/2 years for an immigrant to get a decision on his or her case.

The provisions targeting illegal immigrants, meanwhile, are likely to significantly jack up the number of deportations because they now require no court process for most people in the country less than two years.

Expedited removal gives significant power to individual officers to decide who gets deported, Prof. Yale-Loehr said. If an undocumented immigrant targeted for deportation makes a refugee claim, for instance, an immigration officer can decide on the validity of that claim without the involvement of a court.

"Expedited removal means you don't get a hearing before an immigration judge," he said. "Some people will be removed in error and it's going to cause a lot of problems."

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