A new immigration order signed by President Donald Trump significantly expands who the federal government considers a priority for deportation, taking in — among others — parents who arranged to smuggle their children across the border.
One such parent is Meli, an immigrant from El Salvador, who asked we use only her middle name. She fears repercussions since she lives in the country illegally. The South Los Angeles resident left El Salvador a dozen years ago because she said she faced political persecution and feared for her life.
She left her infant son in the care of her mother.
In 2014, she said her son — then 10 years old — drew the attention of gang members who threatened to hurt him if he did not join them. She and her mother arranged to send him to the U.S., using a smuggler to help get him into the country.
Now, Meli is afraid the Trump administration will be targeting parents like her for possible prosecution and deportation as part of the tougher enforcement of immigration laws that the president promised during his campaign.
Under one of two U.S. Department of Homeland Security memos that outline the administration's new priorities, immigration and border patrol officials will enforce the law against anyone who directly or indirectly "facilitates the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States."
Individuals could be subject to deportation or criminal prosecution, the memo states.
“This would affect us," Meli told KPCC, speaking in Spanish. "And because they know where we live, and where we are, they could come get us immediately.”
Since his arrival, Meli's son was granted asylum in the U.S. Meli did not seek asylum immediately, but she recently applied for the protection and her case is pending.
Los Angeles immigration attorney Alma Rosa Nieto said many families, including those with legal status, arrange for their children to be brought into the country through smugglers. She said that parents who are in the U.S. illegally cannot obtain visas for their children to come legally, even if they face danger in their home country.
“It is common for parents to bring their children and use whatever viable recourse there is in their arsenal to bring them into the United States," Nieto said.
Robin Hvidston of We the People Rising, an local activist group that supporters tighter immigration laws, said the new Trump order simply enforces existing rules.
“It’s against the law for a person to smuggle in another person," Hvidston said. "Even if it is a family member, that is still against the law.”