The Trump administration is struggling to explain precisely what it intends to do about people who are in the country illegally.
President Trump told the Associated Press on Friday that the “dreamers” — people brought into the country illegally as children and now protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put in place under President Barack Obama — should “rest easy” and not worry about deportation. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, echoing comments he made last week, said Sunday that anyone in the country illegally could be deported — and stressed that the Trump administration, for now, is targeting only those engaged in criminal activity.
Interviewed on ABC's “This Week,” Sessions said the Department of Homeland Security has jurisdiction in such matters and has put a priority on the criminal element. “There's no doubt the president has sympathy for young people who were brought here at early ages,” he said.
When the show's host, George Stephanopoulos, then asked whether that means the “dreamers” can rest easy, Sessions answered, “Well, we'll see. I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported; however, we've got — we don't have the ability to round up everybody, and there's no plans to do that.”
That stance tracks what Sessions said during another recent television interview when asked about a 23-year-old man who had “dreamer” status and has been deported to Mexico, according to immigration advocates and lawyers. Sessions said he didn't know why the man had been deported but added, “We can’t promise people who are here unlawfully that they’re not going to be deported.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appeared Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union” and said he's not looking to deport “dreamers” or anyone else who is not actively engaged in criminal enterprises. But he again made clear that broader deportations would be possible under the letter of the law.
“The point that I think the attorney general is making is they are here unlawfully and are subject to deportation. That's what the law says. Now what we actually do is another story. And as I say, we are not targeting — my organization has not targeted these so-called dreamers, DACA. And we have many, many more important criminals to go after and get rid of, and not the DACAs,” Kelly said.
He added, addressing the immigrant community: “If you are simply here illegally, we don’t really have the time go after you. We're looking for bad men and women.”
Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, said on “This Week” that the messages from Washington have been confusing.
“It’s not clear what we can trust, what statement we can believe in,” Becerra said. “And that causes a great deal of, not just anxiety, but confusion, not just for those immigrant communities but for our law enforcement personnel.”