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New immigration guidelines would stretch legal, detention and enforcement capacity

A view of the US-Mexican border fence at Playas de Tijuana in Tijuana, Mexico, in January. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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New guidance memos out from the Department of Homeland Security call for more agents, more detention capacity and more deportations as part of President Donald Trump’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration.

The immigrant rights community is already talking about taking Trump to court over his plans. But does the system for deporting immigrants have the capacity to handle this kind of growth?

For the Trump administration to go ahead with this plan, DHS is calling for more more agents — 5,000 for border patrol, 10,000 for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Shawn Moran, with the National Border Patrol Council, a union that backed Trump in the campaign, said the border patrol is already struggling to fill more than 1,500 jobs.

Right now there’s very few people in the pipeline,” he said. “So we really need to ramp up the hiring process to get them into the training pipeline … I think it’s going to be a multiyear process.

The DHS plan also calls for expanding a program that trains local law enforcement to help federal agents.

According to Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute, “that would mean more places around the country where local officers were assisting federal officers in enforcing immigration laws.”

Once people are detained, they have to go to court before being deported, and there’s a shortage there, too, said Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

“At the present time, there’s approximately 300 immigration judges in field courts around the country,” she said, “and we have a pending caseload at last count of over 540,000 pending cases.”

The DHS plan also calls for expanded detention capabilities. Royce Murray, of the American Immigration Council, said existing detention centers already cost $2 billion a year.

Not to mention the fact that ICE is already operating over capacity … right now with the [new DHS] memos instructing ICE to bring on thousands of additional beds,” she said. “It’s not at all clear to me that Congress will pay for it.”

And that doesn’t even include the cost of building the border wall.

Correction (Feb. 22, 2017): A previous version of this story misstated the name of the organization Royce Murray works for. The text has been corrected.

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