Things That Matter

Trump Targeted Migrants With Fines Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars But Now Those Fines Have Been Reversed

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have canceled fines received by undocumented immigrants living in sanctuary conditions, ranging from $300,000 to $500,000. According to NPR, the fine withdrawals are a turning point for the Trump Administration. 

In 2017, President Trump filed an executive order to begin fining undocumented immigrants, declaring “all fines and penalties that the Secretary is authorized under the law to assess and collect from aliens unlawfully present in the United States,” should be retrieved. 

ICE claims that under the Immigration and Nationality Act the agency has the right to collect “civil fines on aliens who have been ordered removed or granted voluntary departure and fail to depart the United States.”

Trump Administration withdraws fines up to $500,000 for at least five undocumented immigrants. 

The Natural Sanctuary Collective, which works with undocumented families, says that five undocumented immigrants living in sanctuary conditions have received notices that they no longer owe hefty fines. Edith Espinal Moreno has been living in an Ohio church for over two years and received a letter from ICE in June claiming she owed $497,000 for “failing to depart the U.S. as previously agreed.” However, last week Espinal received another notice withdrawing that same fine. 

“Following consideration of matters you forwarded for ICE review, and in the exercise of its discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine,” Lisa Hoechst, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, wrote in the letter to Espinal. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows fines of no more than $500 a day for undocumented immigrants who have been ordered removed or granted voluntary to departure but fail to leave the U.S. 

This is a small victory for undocumented immigrants. 

“This is a victory,” Espinal told NPR. She expressed that she found it unbelievable that the U.S. government thought she would be able to pay a fine of nearly half a million dollars. Espinal came to the United States from Mexico with her father when she was 16. Today she has three children, two of whom are United States citizens.

“They want to scare me,” Espinal told NPR. “Because they know I am in sanctuary. And they know I don’t have this amount of money.”

The mother believes her life belongs in the United States and says she cannot go back to Mexico. Rightfully, Espinal has had the support of the congregation at the church she lives in along with the community. 

“For almost three years now these women in sanctuary have been on the front lines of taking on the Trump administration,” Mohammad Abdollahi, advocate with the National Sanctuary Collective, said. “This victory shows that the women in sanctuary are not only fighting for themselves but everybody. Others should stand up with them.”

Immigrant advocates believe the tactic is used to instill fear. 

The fines target immigrants who have “overstayed” in the United States, thus immigrant advocates believe the fines are used to instill fear and paranoia in immigrant communities that will eventually drive them out. 

“ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods — including arrest, detention, technological monitoring and financial penalties — to enforce U.S. immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges,” ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told NPR in July.

Former deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation Leon Fresco said he could not think of another time when ICE issued such high fines under the Obama administration when he worked there. 

“It’s a vivid illustration of the lengths the Trump administration will go to use any available authority to try to enforce immigration law,” Fresco said. “I have not seen a $300,000 fine for failing to facilitate one’s own removal.”

Espinal’s attorney continues to advocate for her. 

Lizbeth Mateo, Espinal’s attorney believes the fine is exorbitant and even laughed when she first saw the fee. 

“It’s almost half a million dollars. Are they for real? Do they really think that she’s going to pay this?” Mateo said. “I laughed, because there has to be someone in some basement in D.C. thinking, ‘Oh, what else can I do to mess with immigrants? What else can I do to hurt them?’ “

Mateo suspects the fines are not only intended to cause “self-deportation” by scaring immigrants, but that ICE may also belaying the foundation for future criminal penalties. ICE did not give a clear reason as to why fines were dropped for some but not for others, only that they were reviewing individuals on a case by case basis to see if they’ve fulfilled court orders. 

“We know we have strong legal arguments and ICE recognizes that, even if they claim that this decision was based only on discretion,” Mateo said in a statement. “But even if that were the case, ICE has demonstrated with this that they have the power to exercise discretion — the same way they can use discretion to drop these fines, they can use it to release the sanctuary families.”

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