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New Immigration Policies: The source documents behind the news

The Primary Source Crusader (my own mashup of images)

Recent actions and policies surrounding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (all housed under the Department of Homeland Security), have caused a flurry of news. This week’s policy memos are dense and make numerous references to published law, some of which is on the obscure side. So for this post I gathered not only the documents themselves but also the sources referred to in those documents.

If this is a topic that matters a lot to you, I recommend going into the source law whenever it’s referenced because many clauses there refer to other clauses in the law, building in clarifications or exceptions. I’ve included one such instance in the detailed sources below, but after initially trying to do this for all the references I realized that a blog post wasn’t the best place to do that kind of multi-level reference in every case. So I’ll just say here that every reference is more complicated than it looks at first, especially if you (like me) aren’t used to reading laws.

First, some context

Round-up of Updates (section added 3/20/2017)

Memorandum: Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement Policies

The full memo from John Kelly, DHS Secretary, dated February 20th, 2017.

Broadly, this memo ends various ICE and CBP policies that Secretary Kelly calls “catch-and-release,” and it emphasizes that, in general, deportation is the law and any exceptions must be made on a case-by-case basis rather than on the basis of “pre-determined categories.”

Here are links to the sources or programs referenced in this memo:

  • This memorandum provides guidance on implementing the Executive Order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” issued by the President on January 25, 2017. In general, the provisions in the memo were all ordered by that executive order.
  • There aren’t enough resources to deport everyone immediately, so “as the Department works to expand detention capabilities […] detention resources should be prioritized based upon potential danger and risk of flight if an individual alien is not detained, and parole determinations will be made in accordance with current regulations and guidance. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 212.5, 235.3.”
  • The memo tells the Director of ICE to enter into 287(g) agreements with all willing and qualified jurisdictions, thereby using local law enforcement to perform the functions of immigration officers. The Executive Order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” says that states not willing to enter into these agreements would lose access to most Federal grants (see paragraph 29)
  • Secretary Kelly directs the Under Secretary for Management to locate sources of funding to build a border wall, saying, “Congress has authorized the construction of physical barriers and roads at the border to prevent illegal immigration in several statutory provisions, including section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 [page 555-556], as amended, 8 U.S.C. § 1103 note.” [Once you get to Section 1103, search for the section “Improvement of Barriers at Border” down in the notes area. And as an aside, this provision was the subject of a Hearing in 2008.]
  • In the “expedited removal” section, citing Section 235(b)(l)(A)(iii)(I), the wording from the law that makes certain removal decisions “unreviewable” is: “(I) In general.-Subject to subclause (III), if the officer determines that an alien does not have a credible fear of persecution, the officer shall order the alien removed from the United States without further hearing or review.” Subclause (III) then says “(III) Review of determination.-The Attorney General shall provide by regulation and upon the alien’s request for prompt review by an immigration judge of a determination under subclause (I) that the alien does not have a credible fear of persecution. Such review shall include an opportunity for the alien to be heard and questioned by the immigration judge, either in person or by telephonic or video connection. Review shall be concluded as expeditiously as possible, to the maximum extent practicable within 24 hours, but in no case later than 7 days after the date of the determination under subclause (I).”
  • Unaccompanied alien children are defined in a different section of the law: 6 U.S.C. § 279(g)(2) [Here’s just the relevant wording]. In making policy about unaccompanied alien children, this memo makes reference to:
  • The Department will publish in the Federal Register a new Notice Designating Aliens Subject to Expedited Removal sometime soon (I’ll link to it when it is published).

You may have heard that Mexico isn’t pleased with the part of this memo that says it will deport anyone crossing the Mexico/U.S. border back to Mexico, regardless of whether the person is a Mexican national. Here’s the section of the memo that says that:  “Section 235(b)(2)(C) of the INA [here are the relevant words] authorizes the Department to return aliens arriving on land from a foreign territory contiguous to the United States, to the territory from which they arrived.” Secretary Kelly emphasizes that this applies to children as well, “subject to the requirements of section 1232, Title 8, United States Code.”

Memorandum: Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest

The full memo from John Kelly, DHS Secretary, dated February 20th, 2017.

Broadly, this memo provides similar guidance to the other memo, emphasizing that deportation is the general rule with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis, laying out near-term priorities, etc. The main difference between the memos is that the first deals directly with border locations and the second deals with the nation’s interior.

Here are links to the sources or programs referenced in this memo:


Two caveats: 1) Not all knowable things are knowable using official, original published sources, but that’s the limit I’ve set for myself even when that’s inconvenient or frustrating, and 2) I am a librarian trained in tracking down and evaluating sources — nothing more or less than that. I’m doing my best to find the most authoritative version of the primary sources behind the news, and I welcome suggestions and corrections. If you or someone you know would like to add to my collection of primary sources, please let me know.

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