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How the U.S. has stepped up immigration enforcement

The Trump administration has changed the system of immigration enforcement in myriad ways.

Specific actions taken within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – which processes visa and legal residency applications – and the government’s enforcement arm, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have changed the landscape for undocumented and mixed-status immigrant families.

Among the changes:

• Prosecutorial discretion is gone. Under the Obama administration, ICE focused on arresting unauthorized immigrants who had committed additional crimes besides crossing the border without permission. Under the Trump administration, nearly all immigrants living in the United States without permission are at risk of removal.

• No more “stays of removal.” According to attorneys around New Mexico, ICE is now routinely denying the reprieve that lets some immigrants applying for legal status remain in the country while USCIS decides on their application.

• Visa applicants are fair game for deportation. If USCIS is taking a long time to process a visa application and an immigrant is living in the country unlawfully, the applicant may be targeted for deportation. Previously, the government had a policy of allowing USCIS to make a decision on an application before taking action, said Olsi Vrapi, an Albuquerque immigration attorney.

• New layers of red tape. Applications to USCIS are taking longer, attorneys say. For example, a victim of domestic violence could apply for a special visa and receive a work permit within four months. Now the permits are taking six to eight months, according to Elizabeth Zavala, an attorney with Catholic Charities.

Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to investigative journalism.