Trump administration turns to immigration as vote nears
WASHINGTON (AP) - It contained the ingredients of President Donald Trump's campaign speech: dangerous immigrants, attacks on Democrat-run cities, even the mention of "America First."
But it was Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who announced a routine and relatively minor enforcement operation at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.
"It's not about Republicans, it's not about Democrats, it's not about elections," Wolf said twice to reporters.
However, it was the third time in a week that the government put in place measures to make immigration more difficult and revived an issue that was at the center of Trump's successful 2016 campaign, but largely in the background in the current one. And it added to the allegations made by Trump critics that the DHS and other agencies were openly politicized under that president.
The DHS, created to improve America's resistance to external threats after the 9/11 attacks, has been an instrument of the Trump administration's key directives from the start - enforcing stricter immigration policies, building the border wall and before especially the separation of families who have been arrested entering the United States.
Its political role has increased in recent months, with the decision to dispatch DHS tactical agents to Portland, Oregon, to confront protesters outside the federal court without approval from local authorities as part of Trump's law and order campaign theme.
"His approach for the vast majority of the administration was to use the DHS to help him politically," said Miles Taylor, who served as the agency's chief of staff from 2017-19. "Now he's trying to use the department for good." even in the choice. "
Few issues are as important to Trump's political base as immigration. His tenacious approach and promise to build a border wall were cornerstones of his 2016 campaign. But attention to the issue has waned in the 2020 race as Trump focused more on riots in democratic cities, leftist activists, and other matters.
But efforts to restart anti-immigration policies have picked up pace.
In the past few weeks, the administration has announced deadlines for graduation, requirements for additional biometrics and in some cases even DNA to receive immigration benefits, as well as a new rule for immigrant sponsors to submit year-long credit reports, bank statements and other financial information .
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a component of the DHS, posted five billboards in Pennsylvania, a battlefield state, with pictures of migrants charged with crimes the agency sought to arrest. The campaign is rare, if not unprecedented.
Last week the government announced that it had proposed cutting the number of refugees the United States admitted to a new record low in the coming year. On Tuesday, the DHS and the Department of Labor said new rules would significantly reduce the number of visas for skilled foreign workers, which is welcomed by groups advocating cuts in legal immigration to the United States.
Wolf then attended the press conference to announce the enforcement operation - a fairly routine operation that resulted in a relatively small number of arrests. "It's a worrying abuse of power," said Taylor, who endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in the November 3rd election.
The acting secretary, whose appointment is pending before the Senate, said his intention is to highlight the threat from cities and states illegally "sanctifying" migrants in the country by not handing them over to ICE for deportation.
But it just so happens that it is usually cities and states that are run by Democrats and offer protection. Local officials argue that assisting with immigration enforcement is illegally preventing crime victims in the country from illegally cooperating with law enforcement on more serious matters.
Wolf says it is dangerous not to hand her over to ICE, noting that some of the prisoners in the operation committed the serious crimes such as murder and sexual assault.
"ICE is focusing its limited resources primarily on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety," he said.
Even so, his mere presence at the press conference was unusual.
"The fact that Chad Wolf felt that attending a press conference on a humble enforcement measure was the best time of his day shows that he still wants to politicize the department's mission to help the president with his re-election campaign . " said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Home Security Committee.
California Democrat Zoe Lofgren sent a letter to Acting Director of the ICE, Tony Pham, demanding answers about the operation. "I am deeply concerned that ICE is spending government dollars and putting lives at risk to promote what is known as a political messaging campaign," she said.
Since Trump took office, ICE has carried out targeted raids on protected cities, focusing on individuals convicted of crimes in the United States or with charges pending. After a pause at the start of the pandemic, the agency appears to have dialed operations.
Trump has said Biden wants to get rid of ICE and end deportations, but that's not right. The former vice president has argued that illegally crossing the US border is a crime and as such should be punished in federal court. An advisory committee proposed a 100-day moratorium on deportations, but Biden didn't approve of the idea. President Barack Obama's administration has also aggressively deported people.
The most recent operation in California captured about 130 people in the five days leading up to October 2. Last month, ICE marked similar operations in Los Angeles, Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, with little fanfare - just press releases on its website.
Wolf said there would be more sweeps in other US cities soon, without giving details.
Spagat reported from San Diego.
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