Delivering on a key campaign promise, President Trump on Wednesday moved to start construction of a border wall, crack down on recalcitrant local jurisdictions, and reverse his predecessor’s anti-enforcement policies.
Surrounded by the parents of children who died at the hands of illegal immigrants, Trump said at the Department of Homeland Security that America “gets back its borders” — beginning immediately.
“For too long, your officers and agents haven’t been allowed to properly do their jobs. You know that right? … But that’s all about to change.”
“This is a law enforcement agency,” he said. “For too long, your officers and agents haven’t been allowed to properly do their jobs. You know that, right? … But that’s all about to change.”
Trump added, “People are surprised to hear that we do not need new laws.”
Instead of new legislation, Trump issued two sweeping executive orders. One directs the federal government to begin moving on Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border. It includes a directive to hire more 5,000 more border patrol agents and triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
In addition, it calls for increasing detention space and reverses policies that critics dubbed “catch and release” regarding illegal immigrants apprehended near the border. Singling out leaders of unions representing both agencies, Trump said: “You guys are about to be very, very busy doing your jobs the way you want to do them.”
The administration of former President Barack Obama mandated that Customs and Border Protection agents release anyone apprehended near the border as long as that person claimed to have been living continuously in the United States since before Jan. 1, 2014. For others apprehended, border agents have issued notices to appear in immigration court. Because of a backlog, those date often are years in the future.
The policy was broadly unpopular with members of the union representing border patrol agents.
The second order Trump signed Wednesday deals with policy changes in interior immigration enforcement. It would restore a George W. Bush administration program in which participating local law enforcement agencies helped ICE agents enforce immigration law. The Obama administration ended it.
Trump also instructed new DHS Secretary John Kelly to identify federal grants that could be cut off to cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. What’s more, Trump will order the State Department to withhold visas from countries that refuse to accept their citizens whom U.S. authorities want to deport.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday that construction on the wall would begin as soon as possible.
“Building this barrier is more than fulfilling a campaign promise, it’s a common sense first step to really securing our porous border,” he said Wednesday. “And yes, one way or another, as the president has said, Mexico will pay for it.”
Obama’s policies had a major impact. After a spike in deportations in his first term, Immigration and Customs removals plummeted, declining from a peak of 409,849 in fiscal year 2012 to 240,255 in the fiscal year that ended in September.
Trump’s executive orders won rave reviews from advocates favoring more aggressive immigration enforcement.
“President Trump’s executive actions are a historic, much-needed course correction in America’s approach to immigration policy, which has been on autopilot for decades,” Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein said in a prepared statement. “By taking meaningful steps to regain border security and enhance interior immigration enforcement, the administration is underscoring the primacy of the national interest. These long overdue policy steps will protect public safety and American jobs.”
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said Trump’s orders are appropriately comprehensive.
“The big thing is emphasis on both interior enforcement and interior enforcement,” he said. “This something that was pretty much ignored by the Obama administration, and even the Bush administration.”
Liberal activists, predictably, expressed outrage to Trump’s executive orders.
“This is not what America is about,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor said in a prepared statement. “We stand strongly against these hateful actions, and in solidarity with our Muslim and immigrant neighbors.”
Since the November election, a number of mayors and other local government officials have vowed to defend their sanctuary policies. Hans van Spakofsky, an expert at The Heritage Foundation, predicted most cities and counties would fold eventually.
“I suspect a lot of people will give in once they start losing federal funding,” he said.