Trump Beefs Up Immigration-Law Enforcement
The Trump administration on Tuesday defended its policies focused on border and immigration enforcement, arguing that almost all unauthorized migrants pose a threat and potentially should be deported, especially if they violate U.S. law.
President Trump carved out a temporary reprieve for nearly 800,000 migrants who entered the country as children to the United States and were allowed to work and avoid deportation under a program created by the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama.
That program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, will continue for the time being, but may be subject to later Trump administration enforcement actions, according to DHS and White House officials.
“The message from this White House and from the DHS is that those people who are in this country and pose a threat to our public, or have committed a crime, will be the first to go, and we will be aggressively making sure that that occurs,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
“Everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time,” he added.
Under the guise of national security and a federal crackdown on crime, Trump is rewiring his argument that without waiting for Congress, he is making good on changes he promised during his campaign.
The president used a hastily convened White House news conference and a Florida campaign-style rally last week to sharpen his pitch that he’s keeping his campaign promises. On Friday, he plans to reprise his themes when he addresses Republicans at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C.
Border enforcement and the expulsion of unauthorized immigrants who are deemed law-breakers will be part of his CPAC speech. In less than a week, Trump will also address a joint session of Congress for the first time as president during an evening event covered live on television.
Trump on Tuesday conferred privately with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the details of a replacement executive order he seeks to release this week – an order the administration believes can lift a court-ordered freeze on Trump’s temporary ban on foreign-national travelers and certain refugees entering the country.
The president unveiled his initial order a week after his inauguration, sparking global demonstrations of protest, several days of confusion for travelers and green card holders detained in transit, and hand-wringing on Capitol Hill among lawmakers who said they were kept in the dark by the White House.
The administration’s original restrictions were imposed without extensive implementation preparations or White House outreach to stakeholders. The aim was to swiftly block travelers and refugees while creating a stringent new vetting process to screen non-citizens from seven countries, and especially Muslims, who might pose U.S. security hazards. Travelers and refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya were covered by Trump’s order.
After rebukes from the judicial branch, Trump hopes to issue a new order by the end of this week to remedy various legal vulnerabilities and objections identified by a host of states and backed by a federal appeals court. At the same time, the president says he will appeal the underlying legal merits of his executive authority to establish national security policies as he sees fit, within the strictures of law and the Constitution.
Many legal analysts have predicted that even with administration repairs, the replacement immigration order expected this week will be challenged in court.
Whether Trump will rescind the original order or try to layer a new one into the mix was a point of confusion on Tuesday. Spicer told reporters the president would not rescind his January order, but the Justice Department on Feb. 16 told judges for the U.S. Appeals Court for the 9th Circuit that Trump’s executive action would be, in effect, repealed and replaced.
“[T]he president intends in the near future to rescind the order and replace it with a new, substantially revised Executive Order to eliminate what the panel erroneously thought were constitutional concerns,” the department wrote this month in a 47-page response to the federal appeals court.
Separately on Tuesday, DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a pair of memoranda that the administration would protect the country’s borders by targeting almost all unauthorized immigrants who break the law, aiming to keep them out of the country or to deport them more rapidly if they’ve made their way into the United States. A wall or barricade along the country’s nearly 2,000-mile southern border will be built, Kelly said. More federal personnel will be hired to execute the plans.
Kelly’s instructions Tuesday to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and the U.S. Border Patrol do not amount to a “mass deportation” order, Spicer said. The administration argues, much as President Obama did during his second term, that it has wide latitude to set enforcement priorities under existing law, and to target federal resources (and to withhold federal resources in some cases) to bolster Trump’s priorities.
“When you look at the scope of how many people are in the country illegally, the No. 1 priority is making sure that people who pose a threat to this country are immediately dealt with,” Spicer added. “We're talking close to a million people who have already been adjudicated, and had their status processed through a formal due-process system.”
The most frequently cited and recent federal estimate is that 11.1 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the United States. The White House said Tuesday the estimate could be as high as 15 million, although Spicer did not cite a source for the larger count.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that “Americans overwhelmingly oppose sanctuary cities,” pointing to a Harvard-Harris Poll published by The Hill newspaper. The poll found that 80 percent of Americans believe that U.S. cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to federal authorities, rather than shelter undocumented migrants from authorities, or opt to release them rather than detain them under instructions from Washington.
After tackling border and enforcement issues, the president will enlarge his immigration concerns by seeking to curb the few taxpayer-funded benefits available to unauthorized immigrants by law. This is a policy goal several of his top White House strategists have discussed both publicly and internally in the last month, but is complicated by variations in state-based policies.
“We will have more [actions], and [the president] continues to see that immigration is one of those issues that he was very, very clear and consistent on in the campaign. And we're going to continue to implement the policies that he talked about to keep the country safe,” Spicer said.