Up to eight million illegal immigrants living in the US could face deportation under President Donald Trump’s first executive order, according to new analysis.
Experts said it appeared immigration agents had interpreted the President’s directive broadly, and were looking to target millions for deportation.
The new order allows immigration officials to detain almost anyone they come into contact with who has crossed the border illegally, lawyers told The Los Angeles Times.
This contact would include collecting food stamps, or other forms of governmental support.
Under the Obama administration, only recent arrivals, repeated immigration violators and people with several offences on their criminal record were priorities for deportation — a group of around 1.4 million.
But following Mr Trump’s order, that group is expected to swell almost six times in size, the paper said.
“We are going back to enforcement chaos — they are going to give lip service to going after criminals, but they really are going to round up everybody they can get their hands on,” David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the paper.
As well as a blow to families with members living in the country illegally, some analysts predict businesses would take a big hit.
The agriculture industry in particular, which relies on a seasonal migrant workforce, is anticipated to be badly affected by such mass deportations.
America’s Social Security system may also suffer, since unauthorised immigrants contribute an estimated $13bn (£10.4bn), while only receiving around $1bn (£800m) in return.
Not only those who are convicted of crimes, but those merely suspected of crimes, would become targets under the new directive. This category applies to 6 million people thought to have entered the US without passing through an official border gateway.
Another 11.1 people are thought to remain in the US after overstaying a visa, according to Pew Research. Eight million of those hold jobs, the vast majority of which would have lied on federal employment forms.
Mr Trump’s order specifically calls on border agents to target anyone who lied on the applications.
A draft plan currently reportedly being considered by the Trump administration also seeks to deport anyone dependent on welfare.
During his campaign for the White House, Mr Trump repeatedly vowed to build a wall along the Mexico border, telling a Fox news presenter at one point: “You have them coming all over. It's not just Mexico. Everybody's pouring through the border.”
But according to Alex Nowrasteh – a policy analyst at libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute – US immigration has remained stable since since 2009, with around 350,000 people travelling in each direction across the border every year.