The first week of Trump’s presidency has given the immigrant community a glimpse of what the next four years will look like, and has certainly dispelled any hopes that he would soften his hardline stance on immigration once inaugurated. On Wednesday, January 25, President Trump signed two executive actions, and in those statements are an expansion of enforcement priorities, an expansion of International Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officers as well as Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers, reinstatement of the Secure Communities Program, and defunding of “sanctuary cities.” Furthermore, Trump reaffirmed to uphold his campaign promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Expansion of Enforcement
In Trump’s first interview after the election, he told 60 Minutes that he planned on deporting between 2 and 3 million people—and with Wednesday’s executive action, he is one step closer to keeping that promise. One of the primary actions of Trump’s executive order is the expansion of enforcement, or, more simply, broadening the scope of what constitutes a deportable offense. Under the Obama administration, only undocumented immigrants convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanors, or multiple misdemeanors were considered priorities for deportation, but that has changed.
Under Wednesday’s executive action, enforcement is expanded to include illegal immigrants with “any criminal offense” (a general definition that can include anything from stealing a pack of gum to serious crimes) and individuals who have “committed uncharged acts that constitute a chargeable offense,” which include immigration offenses like illegal entry into the U.S. or driving without a license. It further reaches to include those who engaged in "fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter” (like working under a false social security number), and empowers ICE agents to prioritize anyone they feel is a “risk to public safety or national security” (giving broad and sweeping power to immigration agents).
While this section of the executive order may pose a frightening reality for undocumented immigrants, it’s not a done deal yet. In order to carry out expanded enforcement, Trump has proposed hiring an additional 10,000 ICE and ERO officers—something he cannot do without congressional approval. Additionally, in order to identify the criminal offenses of undocumented immigrants, Trump will need the cooperation of state and local law enforcement.
In another move away from Obama-era policies, Trump’s executive order ends the Priority Enforcement Program and reinstates the Secure Communities Program. The Secure Communities Program relies on a partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement with ICE to identify immigrants in jail who may be deportable. The executive order also calls for the defunding of “sanctuary cities,” a loose term for communities that protect undocumented immigrants.
Although it’s within the President’s power to reinstate the Secure Communities Program, state and local authorities are under no obligation to cooperate with the program. At the moment, at least 39 cities and 364 counties nationwide count themselves as sanctuary communities according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Included in that list are major metropolises such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and, ironically, Washington D.C. Many of the mayors of these cities have already made very public statements in support of their immigrant communities. Furthermore, any attempt to defund “sanctuary cities” will be challenged in the courts.
It seems impossible to talk about Trump and immigration without talking about the wall he promised to build during his campaign. Many believed that Trump’s wall would be symbolic, seeing that much of the U.S.-Mexico border runs through desolate terrain. Also, the incredible cost (depending on who you listen to, it could cost as little as $12 billion or upwards of $40 billion) and the fact that the number of undocumented Mexicans in the United States has been declining in recent years seemed to indicate the lack of need for a wall.
During his campaign Trump promised that the cost of building the wall would be paid by Mexico, but so far Mexico has flatly refused. With the question of who will pay for the wall if Mexico doesn’t looming, many are asking if the wall is even necessary. The 650 miles of fencing already up on the U.S.-Mexico border has cost the U.S. $7 billion, and that fencing is on the most accessible and easy-to-build-on land. Trump’s plan to add 1,000 more miles of fence would quickly exceed that cost when considering the logistics required to build a wall in more remote areas. Not to mention that the proposed fencing conflicts with private land, as well as Native American land.
Once again, here is where Trump's order runs into difficulty: The executive order allows President Trump to use existing funds to begin building the wall, but Congress will have to appropriate funding if he wants to see it created.
Buried beneath the main talking points of Trump’s immigration policies, there are further anti-immigrant policies. For example, the White House intends to publish a weekly list of all the crimes committed by immigrants (it doesn’t specify undocumented) and the cities that refused to deport them, and create an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens” that will be dedicated to helping U.S. citizens who have been victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants.
While this first week of Trump’s presidency has challenged the nation’s immigrant communities, there is concern that it could worsen. There has been a lot of talk about another executive action in regards to how—and how many—refugees will be accepted into the United States. And there is still the question of how Trump will handle DREAMers.
GoffWilson has spent decades advocating for foreign-born people to come to the United States for their personal betterment and the betterment of the nation. Immigration laws are going to get stricter and more heavily enforced over the next four years, so whether you have questions on how to protect your business or you have personal immigration questions, contact us today to find out how we can assist you.
“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” –George Washington