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ICE Can't 'Send a Message' That Only Certain Illegal Immigrants are Deportable, Says Director

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas D. Homan speaks during a press briefing at the White House on July 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan said anyone who crosses the border illegally has committed a crime and will not find a “safe haven” inside the United States.

Homan said the government must “stop sending the message” that people who enter the U.S. illegally and do not commit another crime “should be forgotten” because it leads to incidents like the death of 10 migrants smuggled across the border and found inside a sweltering truck in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio last weekend.

Homan revealed that ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations has arrested 3,311 gang members since the beginning of January.

“Targeting, arresting, and removing members of violent street gangs, such as MS-13, sends a clear message to criminal enterprises around the world:  You are not welcome in the United States, and you’ll find no harbor here,” Homan said during a White House press briefing Thursday. “President Trump made it a priority to get these criminals off our streets and, when possible, out of our country. And that’s exactly what the men and women of ICE are going to do every single day to help keep America safe.”

Homan said gangs are “involved in a broad range of criminal activity, including murder, extortion, narcotics trafficking, weapons trafficking, human smuggling, and other crimes with a nexus of border security.”

A correspondent asked Homan to respond to anger among immigrants’ rights groups over ICE deporting undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes inside the U.S.

“It’s ridiculous. I mean, under the prior administration, non-criminals were not a priority. So when you go from zero to 100, of course you’re going to see the biggest rise in that. The executive orders are clear. Anybody who reads the executive orders – no population is off the table,” he said.

Homan said ICE is typically looking for individuals who have a court order from a judge to leave the country.

“Those that get a court order from a judge that refuse to leave, we’re looking for them. Those who enter the country illegally, I’ve said it 100 times, that is a crime to enter this country illegally and when they get their due process at great taxpayer expense – billions of dollars are spent on border security, immigration court, detention – so when they get their due process, and a federal judge orders them removed, that order needs to mean something or the whole system has no integrity,” he said. “Nowhere else in law enforcement has anybody asked a law enforcement agency to ignore a judge’s order from a bench. They’ve had their due process – our job is to enforce those orders and that that’s what we do.”

Homan had a direct response to people that say ICE is concentrating “too much on those that are not criminals – beyond them committing a crime entering the country illegally – they’ve not committed yet another crime, you should ignore them. They’ve been here. Let them go.”

“That message drives what happened in San Antonio… if we send the message that if you get into the country, you get by the Border Patrol, and don’t get arrested by local law enforcement for another crime, and no one is looking for you – that is a magnet, that is a pull factor. We’ve got to stop that messaging,” Homan said.

“We’ve got to tell people it’s not OK to violate laws in this country. You can’t want to be a part of this country and not respect its laws. You can’t have it both ways,” the director added.

Homan continued, “So until we get that message clear that there is no safe haven here and, if you’re in sanctuary cities, that’s where we’ll send additional resources to look for you at your home, at your place of employment. We’re going to enforce the law. We’ve got to stop sending the message that people that don’t commit yet another crime should be forgotten.”

According to a senior administration official, the Trump administration wants to underscore that all types of illegal immigrants are equally subject to being expelled from the country.

“If you send a message that only a particular class of illegal immigrants is subject to deportation and no other, then you’re fueling the smuggling trade and all of the horrible death and abuse that goes along with that, and you are getting people killed and you’re empowering transnational cartels that are wrecking communities on both sides of the border that cross it for the human smuggling trade,” the official said on a conference call Thursday evening. “The laws exist for a reason, and when we don’t enforce laws it creates a cycle of chaos that produces a lot of death and a lot of human misery.”

The senior administration official said the largely Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is “fueled” by illegal immigration, and argued that strong enforcement of federal immigration law is enough to “ultimately disrupt and destroy” the cartel’s network.

“The idea that any American or anyone residing on this soil, for that matter, should be killed because we failed to enforce our immigration laws is an unconscionable tragedy,” he said.

The official explained the “biggest change” from the Obama administration is the handling of undocumented immigrants with gang ties.

“If you are a gang member you are a priority for removal: period, full stop. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been arrested for sexual assault but not convicted – no, you’re gone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been out of jail but they haven’t landed a conviction yet – no, you’re gone,” he told reporters.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a gang member but you haven’t been in the system and everyone knows you’re a gang member and you’re part of a gang that is causing havoc – then you are going to be put into removal proceedings and you’re going to be taken out of the country. That has been a sea change in enforcement priorities and, again, it means ICE can be engaged in preventative law enforcement,” the official added.

The White House official said federal and local police support “preventative” law enforcement.

“They don’t want to show up at crime scenes with people already dead and then just figure out who did it,” the official said. “Every time you can remove somebody before they have a chance to commit the worst crime, that’s ideal.”

A reporter from CNN told the official that the network interviewed gang members who said that Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration has helped them grow stronger because undocumented immigrants are afraid to report crimes.

“I think in general we are not going to be taking our law enforcement advice from people who rape and murder people,” the official said. “If you want to defeat an international threat, you have to educate the public about the threat. You have to rally people around the threat. You have to identify the threat. You have to rally Congress around the threat. Trying to destroy MS-13 without ever mentioning MS-13 is just plainly ludicrous.”

The official compared the challenge with MS-13 to how the U.S. government dealt with the mafia.

“It was essential that it became a national effort, a fully understood, fully funded, fully interactive national effort to break the back of the mafia,” the official said.