January 26, 2017
There's one fundamental difference between the new White House and the old when it comes to immigration: Barack Obama ordered his administration not to enforce a number of immigration laws. Donald Trump has ordered his administration to enforce them.
Trump's two immigration executive orders, issued Wednesday, are long, far-reaching, and complicated. But perhaps the most consequential passage in the two combined orders is a single sentence: "The purpose of this order is to direct executive departments and agencies to employ all lawful means to enforce the immigration laws of the United States."
That is the heart of Trump's immigration strategy. "We do not need new laws," the president said at the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday. "We will work within the existing system and framework."
Trump's proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border dominated coverage of the two executive orders. But the orders do much, much more than that — or at least they start the process of doing much, much more. For those who follow immigration closely, the Trump orders contain several critical provisions. Among them:
1) End "catch and release." In the Obama years, as thousands of people, mostly from Central America, crossed the Mexican border illegally — and made no effort to escape apprehension, asking for a "permiso" to stay — the border authorities would briefly detain them, give them a date to show up in court, and let them go. The practice was known as "catch and release."
It did not take a rocket scientist to predict that most, now safely inside the U.S., would not show up for court. With family units who arrived in that fashion, immigration court statistics gathered by the Center for Immigration Studies (a group which favors tighter immigration restrictions), reveal that 84 percent do not show up in court.
Under Trump's new directive, the Department of Homeland Security will now detain those illegal crossers and handle their cases on the spot. "The Secretary [of DHS] shall immediately take all appropriate actions to ensure the detention of aliens apprehended for violations ofimmigration law," the order on border enforcement says, "pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the country to the extent permitted by law."
"They will be setting up detention facilities and have asylum officers and immigration judges on hand to deal with these cases right away, instead of releasing them into the country to disappear, or claim a work permit," notes the Center for Immigration Studies's Jessica Vaughan.
2) Put pressure on "sanctuary cities." Trump spoke often during the campaign about cities and counties that openly defy federal immigrationlaw. He frequently cited the case of Kate Steinle, the young woman murdered in San Francisco in 2015 by a criminal illegal immigrant who had been convicted of multiple felonies and deported multiple times, yet was still protected from another deportation by local officials enforcing San Francisco's sanctuary policy.
"Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States," the Trump order on interior enforcement says. The order would give the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to determine "that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with [federal law] are not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the [DHS] Secretary."
Some leaders of sanctuary cities are already promising to fight the federal government. But some will likely yield to federal pressure — a remarkable change from the Obama years.
3) Speed deportations. Both the Obama administration and now Trump said they want to remove illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. But Obama waited until the immigrant in question had been convicted before even beginning what could be a lengthy removal process. The Trump interior enforcement order allows removal paperwork to begin at the time an illegal immigrant is charged, on the reasonable assumption that a person who is in the United States illegally to begin with, and is then charged with at least one additional crime, does not have a right to stay in the country indefinitely.
4) Follow the law in deporting "removable" illegal immigrants. "We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," the order on interior enforcement says, referring to illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, and in some cases deported multiple times, only to return to commit more crimes and endanger local communities. "I hereby direct agencies to employ all lawful means to ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens."
"I think it's very important that he is telling DHS officers in all three enforcement agencies that they will again have the discretion to enforce the law as written," says Vaughan, "and not be limited by arbitrary prioritization policies that have been so disastrous for public safety and that have encouraged more illegal immigration."