For much of his campaign, President Donald Trump made promises to strengthen the nation’s immigration policies.
In Trump’s first two months of office, deportations rose, but according statistics from Immigration and Custom Enforcement, it was just a slight increase.
Despite the numbers, fear has taken hold of a number of immigrants in the country illegally, because of the executive orders signed by Trump when he first took office.
In those orders he enacted the travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, increased border security and increased interior enforcement. It is the last that has many on edge, according to Jessica Wallace, an attorney who specializes in immigration law at Ibrahim & Rao, LLP, Greenville.
“(Trump) has thrown away priorities of immigration,” Wallace said. “During the Obama administration, felonious criminals were the priority for deportation, but now it can be anyone who is here illegally.”
That includes formerly protected undocumented immigrants that arrived in the United States before they turned 16 years of age. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a program started by the Obama administration in 2012.
That status was revoked if any enrollee committed a serious crime, became affiliated with gangs or became a threat to public safety. From 2009-15 President Obama deported more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders.
Wallace, who is chair of the legal community team for Hispanic Alliance of South Carolina, says there are over 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and now all are a priority. She said the number of cases involving immigration has risen over the last four months due to concern over the new policies.
“Not only are we seeing more cases, but immigration judges are becoming overworked, having to hear each case,” Wallace said. “Where it was usual to get a trial date 4-6 months after first being seen, now some are having to wait a year or more just to be heard.”
Wallace also said the number of bond motions has increased.
According to Wallace, many accused of a crime will not be able to afford proper representation in court. While it is a citizen’s right to have representation, the government will not pay for that service for immigrant detainees.
An immigrant represented by a lawyer is seven times more likely than one without an attorney to win the right to stay in the United States, according to a study published in 2016 by the California Coalition for Universal Representation. Nearly 70% of immigrant detainees are unrepresented by lawyers.
With the lack of representation, some communities throughout the country are forming public defender groups to help those in immigrant deportation proceedings. Wallace said there are cases in the Ninth Circuit in California looking to change the law to help minors.