President Trump Signs Executive Orders to Build a Border Wall, Dramatically Increase Deportations, and Enact a Temporary Ban on Refugees

by Joseph McKeown

On Wednesday President Trump signed two executive orders to begin construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, increase border patrol forces as well as the number of immigration enforcement officers who carry out deportations. The orders also intend to strip so-called “sanctuary cities” of federal grant funding and establish new wide-ranging criteria that could make many more undocumented immigrants priorities for removal. "Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders," President Trump told workers of the Department of Homeland Security at the department's headquarters in Washington, where he signed the orders.

Although in the order President Trump directs the "immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border," funding for the wall would require Congressional approval. Trump has claimed that Mexico will reimburse US taxpayers for the construction costs, most recently suggesting he would obtain the funds by instituting a twenty percent import tax. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has denied that Mexico will pay for the wall, and canceled a planned meeting in the US with President Trump in protest.

The executive orders call to increase Border Patrol forces by an additional 5,000 agents as well as for 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to carry out removals, again subject to Congress appropriating the sufficient funds. The executive actions also outline new criteria to determine which undocumented immigrants should be prioritized for deportation, potentially placing hundreds of thousands and arguably even millions more people in the federal government's crosshairs to deport. The order states that any undocumented immigrant convicted or simply charged with a crime that hasn't been adjudicated could be deported. (Under former President Obama, only undocumented immigrants convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors were prioritized for removal.) The order also specifies additional new priorities for deportation including undocumented immigrants who abuse public benefits, or simply those who in the “judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security," open-ended criteria that could be applied to many. 

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, tells CNN that Trump's actions are "extremist, ineffective and expensive" and says the president is using lies about immigrants to push US policy. “Trump is taking a wrecking ball to our immigration system. It shouldn't come as a surprise that chaos and destruction will be the outcome," Hincapié says, noting that her organization will challenge Trump's moves in court.

Later this week or next President Trump is also expected to sign executive orders to block refugees from Syria and suspend the US refugee program for an initial 120-day period to ensure no admissions are made for those who “pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.” The order comes despite the fact that Syrian refugees already undergo intense screening processes that often last eighteen to twenty-four months. The orders, still in draft form, also stipulate that when the refugee program is resumed, it prioritizes refugees who have undergone religious-based persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” For Muslim-majority countries this would presumably mean Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities, even though the majority of those killed, persecuted, and displaced by the Islamic State are Muslims. The total amount of refugees admitted also will total 50,000, decreased from 110,000 that the Obama administration had planned to accept.

The draft order calls for an immediate thirty-day halt to all immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of travelers from certain countries—including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia—whose citizens “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The order would allow those with visas to be turned away at US airports and other entry points. Additional provisions under the order would require all travelers to the United States to provide biometric data on entry and exit from the country, instead of current entry-only requirements, and suspends a waiver system under which citizens of certain countries where US visas are required do not have to undergo a face-to-face interview at a US Embassy or Consulate. The draft executive order also calls for visa applicants to be screened for their ideologies. “In order to protect Americans, we must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles,” it reads.

To justify the order, the action claims “hundreds of foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001.” The Washington Post notes, however, that most terrorist or suspected terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been carried out by US citizens. Moreover, the 9/11 hijackers hailed primarily from Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, all which are US allies and not affected by the proposed ban.

Immigrant advocates and human rights groups have criticized the announced actions. “To think that Trump’s first 100 days are going to be marked by this very shameful shutting of our doors to everybody who is seeking refuge in this country is very concerning,” Marielena Hincapié tells the New York Times. “Everything points to this being simply a backdoor Muslim ban."

UPDATE JANUARY 27, 2017: This afternoon President Trump signed the executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” that according to a draft released earlier this week enacts a temporary ban on refugees and suspends visas to immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 4, 2017: A judge in Seattle ordered a nationwide halt on Friday to the travel ban after a Boston court refused to extend a stay. The ruling from the Seattle judge, James Robart of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington, an appointee of President George W. Bush, is the most far-reaching ruling to date, though courts around the country have stayed certain aspects of President Trump's travel ban.

The federal government was “arguing that we have to protect the US from individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that,” Judge Robart said in his decision. The judge's temporary ruling bars the administration from enforcing two parts of President Trump’s order: the ninety-day suspension of entry into the US of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—and the order's limits on accepting refugees, including “any action that prioritizes the refugee claims of certain religious minorities.”

Initially calling the ruling "outrageous," the White House late Friday issued a revised statement saying it would seek an emergency halt to the judge’s stay to restore the president’s “lawful and appropriate" order. Earlier this week the State Department said 60,000 visas had been revoked. A State Department official tells CNN that the department has "reversed the cancellation of visas that were provisionally revoked following the Trump administration's travel ban—so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled." The Department of Homeland Security also said Saturday it has suspended actions to implement President Trump's executive immigration order. Nationals of the affected seven-Muslim majority countries who intend on traveling outside the US or to the US should consult an experienced immigration attorney. We will continue to provide updates as we receive them.