Donald Trump’s White House has sent notices of fines totalling nearly $500,000 (£396,715) to some undocumented immigrants in recent weeks, as the federal government prepares to conduct sweeping immigration raids nationwide after the 4 July holiday.
Letters notifying undocumented immigrants of the administration’s intention were obtained by NPR, which included copies of the statements in a report published on Tuesday afternoon.
The US department of homeland security stated the fines were for “failing to depart the US as previously agreed” and appeared to target undocumented immigrants who “willfully refuse to meet the obligations of an order issued by the department of justice’s executive office for immigration review,” the outlet reported.
The letters, described by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials as “notices of intention to fine”, were issued to certain individuals beginning in December 2018.
One of the letters was sent late last month to Edith Espinal Moreno, who has lived in sanctuary at an Ohio church ever since her deportation was ordered by an immigration judge nearly two years ago.
Lisa Hoeschst, an ICE officer, wrote Ms Espinal on 25 June, saying: “It is the intention of ICE to order you pay a fine in the amount of $497,777 [£395,115].”
Undocumented immigrants who receive the letters are provided a 30-day period to respond before an official decision is made by the agency of whether or not to charge the previously stated fines.
In a statement to NPR, Matthew Bourke, an ICE spokesperson, said: “ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods — including arrest, detention, technological monitoring and financial penalties — to enforce US immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges.”
A former official who served as the deputy assistant attorney general for Barack Obama told NPR he could not recall a time when such a massive fine had been levelled against immigrants “for failing to facilitate one’s own removal”, adding: “It’s a vivid illustration of the lengths the Trump administration will go to use any available authority to try to enforce immigration law.”
A lawyer for Ms Espinal also rebuked the letter of intent, telling the outlet: “It’s almost half a million dollars. Are they for real? Do they really think that she’s going to pay this?”
She added, “I laughed, because there has to be someone in some basement in DC thinking, ‘Oh, what else can I do to mess with immigrants. What else can I do to hurt them?’”
The administration has meanwhile announced sweeping raids to take place that reportedly target undocumented immigrant families after Independence Day. Mr Trump has threatened the raids unless Congress passes legislation that makes applying for asylum in the US a more restrictive process.