The administration of President Donald Trump is moving to reopen cases against undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.
Many cases were closed under the previous administration of former President Barack Obama, which focused on deporting immigrants who had committed serious crimes, according to Reuters.
David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Reuters that this marks a major shift in policy.
"Before, if someone did something after the case was closed out that showed that person was a threat, than it would be reopened. Now they are opening cases just because they want to deport people," Leopold added to Reuters.
Between March 1 and May 31, prosecutors sought to reopen 1,329 cases, compared to 430 under the Obama administration during the same period in 2016.
Reuters was not able to examine all of the cases because they are not available publicly. Of the 32 cases passed by attorneys to the agency, however, 22 pertained to people who had not committed any crime. Meanwhile, six concerned people pulled up for minor offenses, and two related to individuals charged with serious crimes.
One person whose case was reopened following a minor offense was Gilberto Velasquez, who was charged with driving without a license in Tennessee, although he explained to Reuters that undocumented immigrants cannot obtain a license in that state.
"I respect the law and just dedicate myself to my work," he added. "I don't understand why this is happening."
In another case involving a woman who wished to remain anonymous due to pending legal action, prosecutors reopened the case against her because they said she had a criminal past in El Salvador. Her attorney told Reuters that the woman was arrested for selling pumpkin seeds without a vendor's permit and that the government had been aware of this when the case was originally shelved.
Around 81,000 cases were closed by the government between January 2012 and Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20. Judges have expressed concern that if these cases are to be revisited, it will increase the workload at a time when they already confront a large backlog of immigration cases.
Criminals still remain the highest priority for deportation under Trump. But his Jan. 25 executive order makes anyone who entered the country illegally a potential deportation target.
In May, ICE reported that arrests of undocumented immigrants were up 38 percent under Trump. Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan stated at the time that the main focus of his agency was on immigrants with criminal records. However, the biggest rise in arrests was among those without a criminal past. Compared to 2016, arrests among this group rose by 156 percent.
"I get asked a lot why we arrest somebody that's not a criminal," said Homan, according to USA Today. "Those who do enter the country illegally, they do violate the law, that is a criminal act."