New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s six-month-long reign of terror at the Department of Homeland Security felt like a lifetime for America’s undocumented immigrant families. Ignore the media anointing of Kelly as some sort of “beacon of discipline” or “plainspoken disciplinarian” because of his military rank. Instead, Kelly’s DHS appointment saw him falling in line as a “yes man” and enabler of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller’s white nationalist agenda, presiding over a chaotic, “unprecedented crackdown” against undocumented immigrants. Under Kelly, immigrants who walked into once-routine ICE check-ins didn’t walk back out. Under Kelly, immigrant communities have been living under so much fear that they are no longer reporting when they’ve been the victims of violent crime. And under Kelly, the arrest of moms and dads with no criminal record surged over 150 percent compared to this time last year:
In a sweeping February memo, Kelly did away with the Obama-era policy of prioritizing the deportation of those who’d been convicted of serious crimes. On paper (if not always in practice), the Obama administration directed immigration agents to focus their energy on those who’d been convicted of serious crimes and to largely leave alone those who’d been convicted of no crimes. In February, Kelly wrote: “Unless otherwise directed, Department personnel may initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens encountered during the performance of their official duties.”
Gone are the tiers of enforcement that the Obama administration put forth. Even as Trump himself says that he wants to rid the country of the “rapists” and “murderers” among the immigrant population, Kelly has pursued a policy that targets all undocumented immigrants. Kelly’s policy effectively blurs the line between who is an “immigrant” and who is a “criminal”—despite what Trump says. On a practical level, immigration agents no longer have to think carefully about whether an undocumented immigrant they come across is a priority, because anyone who’s undocumented can go. As a result, those with no criminal records or those with the most minor of infractions are as much at risk as those with serious convictions.
“In just six months, Kelly turned DHS into a deportation machine,” declared the Nation.