STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A shift in Trump administration immigration rules underlines a brutal reality for people who are in the United States illegally. They may have been in the country for years or decades. They may have families here, jobs here. They may be part of the fabric of their communities. But they are still in the United States without documents, which gives the Trump administration wide latitude to work harder to remove them. That is what a series of policy changes, announced yesterday, is advertised to do. Immigration advocates like Marielena Hincapie are not happy.
MARIELENA HINCAPIE: In my many years of practicing immigration law, I have not seen a mass deportation blueprint like this one. Trump is saying that everyone is now a priority. He is governing by fear, not by what's best for the American people or for aspiring Americans.
INSKEEP: The White House is trying to calm those fears, saying this is not a mass deportation plan. White House spokesman Sean Spicer says it's simply an effort to enforce existing law.
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SEAN SPICER: For so long, the people at ICE and CBP had their hands cuffed behind them, and when they were going to deal with the mission of their job. Right now, what we've done is to make sure that they have the ability and the guidance and the resources to do their job and enforce the laws of this country.
INSKEEP: ICE and CBP, those are the immigration authorities and Border Patrol agents. Let's talk about this with NPR's Joel Rose, who's on the line. Hi, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: How much is really different here?
ROSE: Well, the immigrant rights advocates would say quite a lot. I mean, they say these new rules are so broad that they make basically anyone in the country illegally a target for deportation. The Obama administration, especially in its later years, prioritized people who had committed serious crimes for deportation.
But these rules would widen considerably the number of people who are prioritized for removal, including people who are convicted of any crime, even minor offenses. Anyone who has, quote, "abused any program related to receipt of public benefits," unquote, and anyone an immigration officer deems a risk to public safety or national security. So advocates say that is so broad, it can include almost all of the 11 million people who are thought to be in the country illegally. And that is creating widespread fear and anxiety about what exactly is coming next.
INSKEEP: What is the administration saying?
ROSE: Well, the Trump administration has tried to allay those fears. The White House and Department of Homeland Security officials insist this is not a mass deportation plan, that they're simply going to enforce existing immigration laws more effectively. On a conference call with reporters, one DHS officials said, we don't have the time or resources or people to go and round up and start deporting millions of people. And he called those fears, quote, "a figment of folks imagination," unquote. DHS officials have made a point of saying that these rules will leave intact a program that helped DREAMers. Those are young people who arrived in the country illegally as children to get work permits.
ROSE: And DHS officials have also said these new rules will take a while to play out. The department is looking to hire 15,000 additional enforcement agents, and that will take time and money. They haven't said exactly how much money they're asking Congress for, but, presumably, it's going to be a lot.
INSKEEP: Well, let's underline this. The administration is saying, we don't actually have the time or resources to throw everyone out. But they're also going for more resources, aren't they?
ROSE: They are. They've talked about adding these 15,000 agents. They've also talked about working with the Department of Justice to send a surge of immigration judges to the border to help work through a major backlog of cases there. But we've seen relatively few details about that.
DHS officials have also talked about reviving an old program to enlist local police departments to help with immigration enforcement. But that program, you may remember, was controversial. Critics charged that it led to racial profiling by state and local police departments. And the federal government terminated, actually, one of those agreements with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in 2011. DHS officials say that racial profiling will not be tolerated.
INSKEEP: Is this likely to be challenged in court?
ROSE: In a word, yes. The ACLU sent out a statement calling these policies un-American. And immigrants' rights groups will probably also file lawsuits once they see exactly how these rules are going to be implemented.
INSKEEP: Joel, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
ROSE: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.