Trump’s immigration speech decoded: What he said, what it means and how it would work


Donald Trump delivered a 10-point immigration plan in a fiery speech this week in Phoenix, but behind the bluster was the outline of one of the most sweeping and far-right immigration proposals in years.

Here’s a breakdown of some of Trump’s statements and what they signal about his plan for immigration reform.

“We will build a great wall”


Trump promises an “impenetrable, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall.” But it’s an idea that has vexed lawmakers for years.

Homeland Security launched the Secure Border Initiative in 2005, and Congress later required double-layer fencing along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. They quickly realized how hard it would be to finish. Anyone who has traveled to Big Bend National Park or the Arizona desert knows the unforgiving terrain.

Costs soared, hitting nearly $4 million a mile in some areas, according to the Government Accountability Office, especially when property was in private hands.

An effort to build a virtual wall was a $1 billion flop, though radar and tunneling technology are currently used.

What exists today is a 650-mile fence in the most-trafficked areas. President Obama has declared that region essentially “secure.”

The prospect for building Trump’s wall? “Fantasy,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The costs, the remote terrain and the reluctance of some landowners to turn over their property make a wall implausible. Trump has said it would cost $8 billion, but outside groups estimate it could be triple that price, according to PolitiFact.

A Border Patrol agent talks with another agent through a fence at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California.
A Border Patrol agent talks with another agent through a fence at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California.
(Bill Wechter / Getty Images )

“Enforce all immigration laws”

It sounds like a simple, common-sense approach: use existing laws to deport people here illegally.

But the reality could result in the revival of a much more rigorous deportation policy, one that had been largely abandoned as ineffective and inhumane.

One thing Trump has vowed to do is scrap Obama’s 2012 and 2014 executive actions that temporarily shielded certain categories of immigrants from deportation and offered them work permits.

“In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced,” he said. “We will set priorities. But unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.”


As the Obama administration has done, Trump says he wants to put a priority on throwing out immigrants accused of committing crimes, which he estimated at 2 million people.

But then he goes further. Toward that goal, Trump proposes tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and adding 5,000 to the Border Patrol.

Trump said he would bring back two earlier programs, Secure Communities and the use of Provision 287(g), which critics say sparked fear in immigrant communities and proved ineffective.

Trump says the programs, which empower local law enforcement agencies, will help identify “deportable aliens.” But that means an immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally and stopped for a minor traffic violation can be detained for deportation.

Anti-immigration law enforcement officials like Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio would have a freer hand to target suspected immigrants for removal, which critics worry could lead to racial profiling.

A Border Patrol vehicle cruises the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Naco, Ariz.
A Border Patrol vehicle cruises the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Naco, Ariz.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times )

Apply for reentry like everybody else”

Here Trump suggests a path for immigrants that does not exist now, or under his new plan.

Instead of the current system for immigrant visas, which favors those with family members in the U.S. and specially skilled workers, Trump is proposing a more ideological and merit-based approach.

“It’s our right, as a sovereign nation, to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us,” he said.

He tells immigrants they’ll have to go home, reapply and wait their turn to legally return. But experts say there is no viable route for many immigrants to enter the country legally, which is why many come illegally.

There’s also a 20-year wait for certain family visas for those coming from Mexico.

Employment visas are available for five categories of workers — mainly high-tech and other specialists. None are marked for gardeners, construction workers, maids or other service-industry jobs that are often filled by immigrants.


Under Trump’s broad outlines, only the best and brightest would be allowed in.

“We also have to be honest about the fact that not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate” he says. “Sometimes it’s just not going to work out.”

“Block funding for sanctuary cities”

Trump promised to ban federal funding to “sanctuary cities” — those that refuse to assist federal officials seeking to detain or deport immigrants solely because they are in the country illegally.

More than 300 cities across the nation have adopted this approach to law enforcement.

The lack of cooperation between sanctuary cities and border officials sometimes has disastrous results.

Trump often refers to the case of Kate Steinle, who was gunned down on the San Francisco pier by an immigrant who had been deported multiple times. The man had recently been released from jail, and the local sheriff had implemented a policy of not notifying federal immigration officials of such releases.

Trump did not specify what federal funding would be blocked, but Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to cut off federal funds for sanctuary cities.


Also, depriving the cities of federal money could backfire, particularly if it means fewer grants for police, fire and other social services.

Activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court earlier this year in support of President Obama's executive action to grant deportation relief to keep immigrant families together.
Activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court earlier this year in support of President Obama’s executive action to grant deportation relief to keep immigrant families together.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press )

“There will be no amnesty”

Trump made clear that his plan offers no path to citizenship or legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

“For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status,” he said, “they will have one route and one route only: To return home and apply for reentry like everybody else, under the rules of the new legal immigration system that I have outlined.”

At the same time, he seems to leave the door open for some law-abiding, tax-paying immigrants to remain in the country, but apparently without any assurances that they could stay or live normalized lives.


He said after “the establishment of our new lawful immigration system, then and only then will we be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of those individuals who remain.”

One thing is certain: The 11 million immigrants here illegally are not his priority. Immigration reform, Trump said, “should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens.”

Twitter: @LisaMascaro


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