President Trump put force behind his central campaign pledge to toughen immigration enforcement, signing orders Wednesday to start construction of a border wall, expand authority to deport thousands, increase the number of detention cells and punish cities and states that refuse to cooperate.
Some of the actions could add up to billions of dollars and will require help from a Republican-led Congress friendly toward Trump’s immigration agenda. Others will invite lawsuits from a vast army of opponents. Yet in total, they represent a major shift in the nation’s approach to immigration and an early indication that Trump plans to boldly reshape government as he promised on the campaign trail.
Trump, in office less than a week, has shown few signs of letting up on his vow to dramatically limit the flow of people from other nations. In addition to Wednesday’s two orders, he is considering a flurry of additional ones that would temporarily ban all new refugees and narrow the openings for people traveling from Muslim-dominated countries.
“A nation without borders is not a nation,” Trump said to employees at the Department of Homeland Security. “Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders.”
The most immediate impact of Trump’s actions might be a vast increase in the number of people subject to detention and deportation. Trump’s orders call for an expansion of detention facilities holding asylum seekers and others awaiting immigration hearings. It would end so-called catch-and-release practices that allow those migrants to remain at large if there is overcrowding or if they are mothers with children, unaccompanied minors or face a credible fear of persecution from their home countries.
Trump’s orders would also put a greater emphasis on deporting not only those convicted of crimes, but also people in the country illegally who were charged with crimes not yet adjudicated, those who receive an improper welfare benefit and even those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
“The day is over when they can stay in our country and wreak havoc,” Trump said. “We are going to get them out, and we’re going to get them out fast.”
Immigration rights groups and politicians representing liberal localities known as sanctuary cities and states vowed resistance — in Congress, local legislative bodies and in court — inviting what is likely to be years of litigation.
“Directing a deportation force to break up immigrant families contributing to our country is not a show of strength,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said. “It damages our communities and erodes local economies.”
Harris said Trump had used his first days in office to target the “voiceless and vulnerable.”
California alone receives as much as $105 billion a year in federal dollars, though it’s unclear how much of that money would be put in jeopardy as a result of Trump’s orders, which give power to the U.S. attorney general and Homeland Security secretary to withhold grant money. The most likely targets are money for equipment, prisoner detention and officer training.
Trump scared and angered minorities and others when he opened his campaign by saying some Mexicans who came to the U.S. brought drugs and crime and were rapists.
He echoed some of that explosive language Wednesday: “We are going to get the bad ones out: the criminals and the drug dealers and gangs and gang members and cartel leaders.”
The need for more money to fund Trump’s agenda will ensure Congress continues to play a role and could delay implementing some of his measures, including the hiring of 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, which would bring the total to 26,000, and 10,000 new immigration officers, tripling their ranks to 15,000.
Others require less money but will help Trump, a strong believer in the power of branding, to send a message. He ordered the Homeland Security Department to publish a list every week of crimes committed by people in the U.S. illegally, along with names of police departments that failed to detain them.
Though Congress seems likely to approve spending on agents and holding cells, Trump’s border wall — his signature campaign promise — could be a tougher sell. He directed federal workers to start construction, allowing Homeland Security to redirect about $175 million already set aside for upgrading Border Patrol buildings and adding new equipment.
But a wall all along the 2,000-mile border, which Trump has called for, would cost billions. Trump has said the U.S. would pay for it, while insisting it would eventually be reimbursed by Mexico. But Mexico says it won’t pay for the wall.
“There will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News.
He did not detail how he would force Mexico to pay for the wall, though during the campaign he proposed ending remittances sent home by Mexicans in the U.S., which make up a large part of Mexico’s economy, to pressure its leaders to negotiate.
Wednesday’s announcement is certain to add discomfort to next week’s visit from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is under intense pressure at home to repudiate Trump’s insistence that his country will pay for a wall, and a spokesman said he did not know whether Peña Nieto would come to the White House.
A wall will help Mexico crack down on cartels and stop immigrants moving north from Central America, Trump said. He also promised to help stop cash and guns from flowing south out of the U.S.
Additionally, he is considering a reversal of former President Obama’s efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the reintroduction of torture techniques and secret overseas prisons designed to strip protections for terrorism suspects.
The torture techniques, widely considered one of the darkest chapters of the post-Sept. 11 era, were outlawed by Congress, and a Senate Intelligence Committee report found that they did not work.
Trump argued repeatedly during the campaign that the U.S. had become too “politically correct” to effectively defend itself.
Trump told ABC News that he would rely on his Cabinet, but has been told by intelligence officials that torture does work. “The answer was yes, absolutely,” he said.
One directive he is reviewing would block all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and restrict admissions and some visa applicants for people from countries where the U.S. has counter-terrorism concerns, not only Syria but also Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
The draft order temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program while new vetting procedures are put in place and officials decide whether refugees from some countries should be blocked permanently from admission. This step would probably bring an international outcry, given the historic role that the U.S. and other industrialized nations have long held in taking in victims of war and oppression.
The order goes beyond the Muslim world, however. It would suspend the visa-interview waiver program, which allows some foreign workers and students in the U.S. to extend visas without returning to their home country for an in-person interview at the U.S. consulate.
Times staff writers Lisa Mascaro in Philadelphia and Kate Linthicum in Mexico City contributed to this report.
3:35 p.m: The story was updated with more details on Trump’s orders.
1:05 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Trump.
11:05 a.m.: The story was updated with Trump signing executive orders.
10:45 a.m.: The story was updated with comments from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
9:25 a.m.: The story was updated with comments from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The story was originally published at 8:45 a.m.