Enforcing immigration laws has become a priority for President Donald Trump's administration. This year, the House Appropriations Committee has already approved $185.6 million dollars to – among other things – hire 1,000 more immigration law enforcement officers. The move has many undocumented immigrants' families across the country very worried.
The Trejo family, like many others, worry about their future. Ruben Trejo, who has lived in the United States for 20 years, was on his way to work when immigration authorities detained him. He is undocumented and does not have a valid driver's license. Matters only got worse when his 11-year-old daughter Ashley and her mom, Araceli, went to pick up his car and Araceli, who is also undocumented, was temporarily detained.
“I thought that my mom would also get arrested and that I would never see her,” Ashley said.
Araceli was quickly released because she’s in the process of getting her status resolved, but her husband’s future is uncertain.
“He’s practically innocent ... the only problem he has is being an immigrant,” Araceli said.
Claudio Rojas, another undocumented immigrant in South Florida, said officers arrested him because he overstayed his tourist visa and has not been able to sort out his immigration status.
“One day, officials came to me, where I am living now ... and they pointed guns at me and arrested me,” Rojas said.
Rojas was detained for seven months in 2013 and since his release has been reporting to immigration once a year.
But things have changed under Trump's administration, according to Rojas. This year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Rojas for his passport and a Stay of Deportation order. Rojas's attorney, Sandy Pineda, said these types of requests are becoming more common under the Trump's presidency.
“It’s like you’re going to trial every day, every time that you show up there,” Pineda said, adding that immigration officials are making more demands of their clients and requiring they check-in more frequently.
In a statement earlier this year, immigration authorities said “anyone who violates immigration law is subject to arrest ... detention and removal ... from the United States.”
As part of the effort to crack down on illegal immigration, the administration asked for a 29.4 percent budget increase for ICE, including $4.4 billion dollars for detention and removal operations.
The agency said it’s already seen an important drop in apprehensions at the Mexican border.
“We’re running about 25 percent below last year,” Manuel Padilla, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's chief patrol agent in the Rio Grande sector, said.
Between January and June of this year, ICE detained 114,144 immigrants compared to 267,746 during the same period last year, records show.
Chris Cabrera, the National Border Patrol Council spokesperson, said the "numbers dropped dramatically.”
CBP said the drop coincided with efforts to suspend the catch and release program, an effort in which immigration authorities process immigrants at the border and let them enter the United States with the promise they’ll report to court. As for deportations, those increased from 89,850 in the 2016 fiscal year to 93,469 in the first ten months of the 2017 fiscal year.
Who is being removed? In the first five months of this year, 31.9 percent of those deported strictly had immigration issues – higher than any other category in ICE data. For the following largest categories of those deported: 18.3 percent were listed as having committed violent crimes, 16.3 percent had drug charges and 15.1 percent had traffic violations.
“ICE has been very clear on their standpoint that they do not care if the person does not have a criminal history. All they care about is removing people at this point,” Pineda said.
Her client, Rojas, was able to present his documents to immigration officials and was released with the condition he reports back in December.
Rojas said he doesn’t know what to expect.
“It’s always hard because you never feel free even though you are out walking with society,” Rojas said. “You are not free.”
As for Ruben Trejo, after two months of being detained his family got the homecoming they had hoped for when immigration officials released him. He will have another hearing in a few months in which he hopes to find out if he will be allowed to stay in the United States.
Immigration judges NBC 6 has interviewed said immigrants who have legal representation or a lawyer always have better chances of winning cases.