During the course of the Trump administration’s announcements regarding its immigration enforcement initiatives, the media has written a few articles about recent individual detention and deportation cases.
The usual narrative is that these deportation proceedings are the result of Trump’s new enforcement initiatives and the standards laid out in twin memorandums issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
However it wold appear that some of the cases that are being highlighted in the media are not perfect examples of the Trump administration’s broadening of the categories of undocumented people who are subject to deportation.
Let’s take as one example the case of a Mr. Juan Carlos Hernandez-Pacheco. CNN has reported (along with other media outlets) on how he was detained and is now subject to deportation after being swept up in an enforcement action when ICE agents were looking for another person.
Mr. Hernandez-Pacheco has been in the United States in an undocumented status since 1998 and in that time he has ingratiated himself with members of the Illinois town where he lives. The CNN article covers the conflicts that members of the town feel about him bring subject to detention and potentially being deported. The article further reports how Mr. Hernandez-Pacheco has two prior DUI convictions and that is what led to him being detained.
In the article, Mr. Herandez-Pacheco’s attorney clearly lays blame for the action at the feet of the Trump administration’s enhanced enforcement actions:
“Past administrations have been more microscopic, while targeting people with violent crimes and sex assault crimes,” the lawyer said. “But this administration has expanded the net to include DUIs and has also said (to enforcement agencies), if you’re out looking for someone and run across anyone else who’s undocumented, then pick them up.”
When you read the article, particularly in the context of the assertion by Mr. Herandez-Pacheco’s attorney, the clear impression is that this detention was the clear result of the new memos that were issued by Trump administration. Yet this attorney’s statement is not entirely correct and leaves an unrebutted misimpression about the prosecutotial discretion programs under Obama and Trump.
While it is accurate to say that Trump has expanded the reach of people now subject to deportation under Trump’s prosecutorial discretion program, even under Obama’s prosecutorial discretion program a DUI conviction rendered an undocumented person subject to deportation. The relevant portion of the Obama administration’s memo states that among the people who would not be protected from deportation under the prosecutorial discretion program are:
aliens convicted of a “significant misdemeanor,” which for these purposes is an offense of domestic violence ; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary ; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; or driving under the influence …
Thus, while it is very clear that the Trump administration is taking a more broadly enhanced initiative regarding immigration enforcement, it would advance the media’s interest, and the policy debate surrounding immigration policy, to present cases where there is a clear departure from the prosecutorial memo issued by the Obama administration in 2014. Mr. Herandez-Pacheco situation would not appear to be one of those cases.