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Unsettled: How Immigration Enforcement Is Changing in the Trump Era

Then-candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop in Cleveland in March 2016. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Then-candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop in Cleveland in March 2016.

This story is part of our series  Unsettled: Immigration in Ohio.

Since President Donald Trump took office, federal immigration authorities have stepped up enforcement.

That’s according to the government and attorneys who defend people in such cases. Arrests are up. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, says no one here illegally is exempt from possible deportation.

Uncertainty Over the Future of DACA

For most of her life, Susana has lived in Lake County, Ohio. But she was born in Mexico. Her father brought her to the United States when she was one year old.

A few years ago, she signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. It grants protected status to people who came to the country undocumented as children.

“It opens up so many doors for you,” she said. “Especially since I’m in high school, and I always wanted to go to college, and I thought it would be great, because it allows me to go to college, and be able to drive, get a driver’s license.”

Last week, the Trump administration discontinued a program for parents that was never implemented. DACA, for now, will stay. But officials say they have not made a final ruling.

Susana and her family spoke with ideastream before the administration’s announcement.

She graduated from high school this year and plans to start college in the fall. If the government did choose to deport her, she said she’d probably stay with her grandmother in her family’s hometown of León, Mexico.

“It’d be difficult to start in a new country,” Susana said. “Going to school, I probably wouldn’t be able to go to school. Probably start working.”

Since the election, her mother said, the family has been uncertain about the future.

“We feel worried, afraid, because we've noticed that there are a lot of changes happening, and everyone feels insecure,” Susana’s mother said in Spanish.  

‘No Population Is Off the Table’

President Trump signed an executive order in January laying out his priorities for arrest and deportation. The acting director of ICE, Thomas D. Homan, testified before a Congressional subcommittee last week.

“We still prioritize criminal and national security threats,” Homan said. “What we’re saying is, but no population is off the table. We you start taking entire populations off the table, you destroy the foundation of law enforcement.”

In the president’s first hundred days, there were 44 percent more immigration arrests in Ohio and Michigan than over the same period last year, according to ICE.

ICE says about 70 percent of the people arrested in the region had some form of criminal conviction, though non-criminal arrests more than tripled here compared to the start of last year.

Homan faced questions about one case in particular: that of a New York teen who had been ordered removed from the country, and was arrested by ICE just before his prom.

“The country I grew up in, if you’re violating the law, you should be uncomfortable,” Homan said. “He should be looking over his shoulder if he’s in this country in violation of law, has been ordered removed. He should be worried that he’s going to be arrested.”

Homan said there are plans to expand cooperation with local law enforcement.

In Lake County, Sheriff Daniel Dunlap said he does not have much contact with ICE. But he said he has reported several people to immigration in the past year after they were arrested for other offenses.

“We’re going to continue to do our job,” Dunlap said. “Like I said, we’re not going out into the street and in the neighborhoods and looking for Latinos or anybody else.”

In Trump’s first hundred days, ICE says, there were more than 30,400 arrests nationwide of undocumented immigrants with criminal records. The agency says serious offenses, such homicide, rape, assault or kidnapping made up more than 2,700 of those convictions.

Immigration attorney Kim Alabasi said the government does deport people charged with offenses such as domestic violence, but also those who face less serious charges.

“Most of the offenses that I’m finding are traffic offenses. So for example, driving without a license or speeding,” Alabasi said. “They’re low-level charges such as trespassing, which I’ve had recently.”

In prior years, some people facing deportation had been allowed to stay in the U.S. if they checked in with authorities regularly. But that’s changing, attorney Elizabeth Ford said.

“For the people who have those yearly check-ins, I’ve seen almost all of them be told, now you need to start making a plan to leave,” Ford said. “Some of them are told by a certain day, you have to have a ticket to leave the country.”

She said ICE will escort them to the airport in Detroit, where they’ll board a flight with no U.S. stops.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.