As President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches, his hard-line supporters and the unauthorized immigrants he has pledged to oust are waiting to find out how Trump will define a group that he has often railed against: “criminal immigrants,” reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Both words of that phrase raise questions about Trump’s main targets for immigration policy. “Criminal” raises questions because while a person’s immigration status is considered a civil matter, anyone who crosses the border without permission could be charged with a misdemeanor, illegal entry. Anyone who does it twice could be charged with a felony, illegal re-entry. Some wonder whether Trump will increase prosecution of these offenses as part of his plan to deport criminals.
“Immigrant” raises questions because, while Trump’s supporters seem focused on unauthorized immigrants, those who are here legally — such as with a green card — can also commit crimes and be deported for it. Advocates on both sides want to know whether Trump really is zeroing in on the unauthorized, or whether green card holders who have committed crimes will be equally affected by Trump’s proposed increased enforcement. Trump’s supporters say the law is clear, that violators should know and face the consequences, and they expect Trump to follow through. But attorneys who work in criminal defense and immigration say the lines are murky and that the inequalities of the criminal justice system seep into the immigration court system. They worry that casting too wide a net will unnecessarily flood already-backlogged immigration courts and crowded detention centers with people who could otherwise contribute positively to American society.