WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Wednesday began to make good on his campaign promise to fight unauthorized immigration, when he signed executive orders instructing construction of a wall on the southwest border, a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities and directives that would make effectively every undocumented immigrant a priority for deportation.
He signed the two orders during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security, where he also addressed about 300 employees of the agency, whom he said have for too long been unable to do the job of enforcing immigration law.
He made clear that his concern would not be how his policies affect undocumented immigrants, and discussed them almost solely in terms of those who have killed Americans and legal residents.
“[People] talk about how enforcing immigration law is going to separate illegal immigrant families,” Trump said. “But the families they don’t talk about are the families of Americans forever separated from the people they love. They don’t talk about it, ever. As your president, I have no higher duty than to protect the lives of the American people.”
Trump didn’t announce his plan to restrict entrance into the country for refugees and people from certain nations, or an end to President Barack Obama’s deportation relief program for young people.
But his executive orders gave a more detailed overview than he has provided previously into his immigration plan, which could, if enacted, dramatically increase the number of people detained and deported.
Trump said he would end the “catch-and-release” policy that deports certain unauthorized border-crossers without extended detention, put more pressure on other countries to accept back their nationals and hire thousands more border patrol and immigration enforcement agents. He also laid out the administration’s priorities for deportation, expanding them from Obama’s focus on recent border-crossers and convicted criminals ― something the past administration didn’t always follow ― to a broader swath of undocumented immigrants.
He promised that DHS would create a new office focused on the victims of unauthorized immigration, and brought along mothers and fathers of people killed by undocumented immigrants.
Trump claimed the executive orders would “save thousands of lives, millions of jobs and billions and billions of dollars.”
Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is about 1,900 miles, would likely cost billions. Although he claimed throughout the campaign that Mexico would pay for it, the president now says the U.S. government would finance the construction before getting reimbursed by Mexico. It’s not clear what the wall would actually look like ― the order says a wall “shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” which leaves open the possibility of the administration simply adding to the 650 miles of fencing that already exists, even though Trump has previously said it is inadequate.
Trump, whose plans to kick out immigrants would require cooperation from Mexico, is scheduled to meet with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray this week, and meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Tuesday. Peña Nieto has rejected Trump’s claims that Mexico will pay for a border wall.
“It is evident that we have differences with the new United States government on some issues, such as a wall that Mexico absolutely will not pay for,” Peña Nieto said earlier this month. “At no time will we accept anything that goes against our dignity as a country and our dignity as Mexicans ... basic principles such as sovereignty, the national interest and the protection of our citizens are non-negotiable.”
Trump insisted that his plans would be positive for Mexico because they would aim to keep Central Americans from coming into either Mexico or the U.S. He referred to the current numbers of people apprehended at the border from Central America as an “unprecedented surge of illegal migrants” ― not noting that many of them are women or children seeking asylum.
“This is going to be very, very good for Mexico,” Trump said.
Mexico’s economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, who visited Washington on Wednesday to meet with Trump administration officials, threatened to walk away from talks if the U.S. insisted on having Mexico pay for the wall or impede remittances from Mexican nationals.
After news of the border wall order broke, Mexican legislators called on Peña Nieto to cancel his visit to the United States, scheduled from Jan. 31. He said on Wednesday that he was considering canceling, The Associated Press reported.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric was a staple of Trump’s presidential campaign. He received backlash after suggesting Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, and in December 2015, he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States.
He also said repeatedly during the campaign that he would do whatever was in his power to force jurisdictions to cooperate with deportation efforts, whether they want to or not. “Sanctuary city” is a broad term for jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement efforts.
Most of them do work with ICE to some degree, such as notifying the agency before releasing certain criminals. But leaders in those jurisdictions argue that holding all suspected unauthorized immigrants based on ICE requests can hurt community policing efforts and even violate the Constitution, if they hold someone beyond when they would otherwise be released.
The executive order states that sanctuary cities may lose federal law enforcement grants, and the federal government would shame them into compliance by posting a list of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in jurisdictions that declined ICE’s requests to hold certain people.
Some leaders in jurisdictions that restrict ICE cooperation have said they have no intention of altering policy based on Trump’s threats.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement that Trump lacked the authority to take away funding from cities and states.
Trump is also preparing to issue an executive order restricting refugee admissions to the U.S. and denying visas to individuals from countries his administration deems high-risk.
Roque Planas contributed reporting.
This article has been updated throughout with information on Trump’s orders.