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Trump’s Zero Tolerance Approach Goes Beyond the Border

Thousands With No Criminal Record Being Caught Up in Crackdown

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees arrive at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon  

The Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the border has provoked justifiable public outrage and widespread condemnation. But new data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows the crackdown on immigrants is likely wreaking additional havoc on families across the country, far from the border.

Under President Barack Obama, government policy was to target unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal offenses for deportation. President Donald Trump’s approach, on the other hand, makes all unauthorized immigrants “priority” targets for deportation – and it’s taking a toll.

According to the data obtained by the Huffington Post, one-quarter of the people taken into custody for deportation in 2017 had no criminal conviction at all, and most of the remaining three-quarters had previous convictions for offenses like simple drug possession, immigration violations, and traffic offenses. Although exactly analogous data is unavailable for 2016, our analysis of other datasets show arrests of people with no criminal convictions have shot up under Trump – the number of arrests of people with no criminal convictions in the first seven months of 2017 was almost triple that of the number arrested during the same period in 2016. Although the more recent data offer no insight into these people’s family relationships in the United States, we know from previous research that many of these people will have deep ties to the country, including US-born husbands, wives, and children. As a result, across the US, these deportations mean thousands are undoubtedly experiencing the heart-wrenching destruction of their family relationships.

Deportations of people with minor drug offenses is not new, and deportations of people with minor offenses were frequent under the Obama administration as well. But near the end of Obama’s term, new policies focusing efforts on recent border-crossers and people with criminal convictions led to a significant drop in arrests and deportations of people living in the US. According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2016, 86 percent of all deportations were of noncitizens who had recently crossed the border illegally; of the remainder, people removed from the interior, more than 90 percent had been convicted of what the Department of Homeland Security defined as “serious crimes.” In its first year, the Trump administration erased that trend, ramping up arrests of immigrants from the interior.

Even as attention has rightly focused on the harm caused by the administration’s zero-tolerance policy at the border, arrests and deportations from the interior of the country show the Trump administration’s brutal immigration policies are also hitting hard among people who have built their lives and families here.

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