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The immigration executive orders signed by President Donald Trump this week could amount to a vast expansion of authority for individual immigration officers and a dramatic increase in efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
The order lays out a series of categories of undocumented immigrants that immigration law enforcement officials should prioritize for removing from the country, a reaction to what was criticized by the right as lax enforcement of immigration law by former President Barack Obama.
But experts say the descriptions include virtually every person in the country illegally and give broad latitude to individual immigration officers to decide who should be detained for deportation.
In addition to a strain on resources, critics worry the orders could cause legal concerns.
The Obama administration had prioritized expulsion of undocumented immigrants who threatened public safety or national security, had ties to criminal gang activity, committed serious felony offenses or were habitual misdemeanor criminal offenders.
Trump's order goes far beyond that, using a sweeping definition of "criminal" and giving a single immigration officer the ability to make judgments on threats to public safety.
The order says the priority will be removing deportable immigrants who "have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security."
Experts say the order would seemingly include all undocumented immigrants -- a departure from Obama administration policies that extended some protections to those that have lived in the US for potentially decades and have otherwise been contributing members of society. The Obama administration offered formal protection to a group under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, geared toward undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children who grew up here and were pursuing education or jobs.
Trump has said that such individuals are not his priority, that he wants to focus on removing "bad dudes." Nevertheless, his sweeping executive order would seemingly allow for anyone to be detained for removal proceedings, even if they have only been suspected of committing a crime, including misdemeanors, or of being a threat.
"I think it covers just about every illegal alien in the country," said Hans von Spakovsky, a legal expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been strongly influential on Trump's policy. "It's also very clear that the No. 1 priority is people who have been charged and convicted with criminal offenses, and that's the kind of violent criminals who should be out of the country."
Still, there's nothing in the current order that makes that clear. It places a violent criminal at the same level as a parent of US citizen children who works and contributes to their community, said Washington University law professor Stephen Legomsky.
"That strikes me as crazy," said Legomsky, who has served as a consultant to Obama, former President Bill Clinton and the George H.W. Bush administration.
have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security."
US Federal District Judge Edward Korman, has reaffirmed an Obama admin policy that grants officials the authority to search Americans’ laptops and other electronics without a warrant, citing a controversial premise that makes citizens within 100 miles of the border eligible for a warrantless police search.