Although President Donald Trump on Monday warned that his administration plans to remove “millions” of undocumented immigrants, a giant question mark hangs over the ability of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enact such a massive deportation policy.
“The ability of ICE to execute this plan may really be secondary, as the real purpose is to instill fear into the community,” immigration attorney Matt Archambeault told Observer. “Any uptick in arrests will be confirmation to the affected communities, but in reality, nothing much will really change. They do not have the capacity for the removal of millions of immigrants. It’s a re-election ploy.”
Under the Trump administration, ICE has been rocked with changing leadership and budgetary challenges. In April, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen departed their posts after refusing to carry out the White House’s mass deportations plan, dubbed “rocket docket.” Although the president replaced Vitiello with immigration hardliner Mark Morgan, and announced last week the creation of America’s first “border czar” post, the agency has struggled to keep up with the White House’s escalating crackdowns.
In recent months, ICE arrests have declined as agents handle a record surge of migrants at the southern border, with a senior official saying the agency was “addressing what has been occurring and continues to occur at an alarming rate at the border.” Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put in motion a policy proposal to have border patrol staff conduct asylum interviews—further stretching the agency’s frontline resources as agents adjust to additional roles. DHS has also struggled to find detention space to hold migrants, opting for unaccompanied jail cells and, as of last week, a former Japanese internment camp in Oklahoma.
Moreover, a massive disconnect exists between DHS and the executive branch. According to CNN, Trump’s announcement of mass deportations blindsided ICE officials, with an agency spokesperson directing all inquiries about the policy to the White House. The president, meanwhile, has not indicated whether “rocket docket” will go into effect via a regulatory filing or executed as an operation undertaken by ICE—or if it will target only immigrants with an outstanding deportation order or all undocumented people.
“Probably the former because ICE does know who those people are, and they’re easier to identify and locate. But we don’t know yet and we’re going to have to wait for more information,” Jacob Monty, who previously served on the president’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, told Observer. “It’s a disturbing tweet because it echoes what he promised in September of 2016 when he announced his immigration plan which was mass deportations, which is ultimately what prompted me to resign from the campaign.”
“There’s a lot of discretion as we’ve seen with the prerogatives given under the Emergency Declaration given to the president,” continued the one-time Trump advisor. “He has a lot of discretion under law enforcement priorities. You don’t want to be alarmist and react if this is not what’s intended, but you can’t dismiss it because he is the most powerful person on the planet and has his command of vast resources. But generally, you haven’t seen large scale mass roundups of undocumented people in election years.”