President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 ordered construction of a U.S.-Mexican border “wall” and punishment for cities shielding illegal immigrants while mulling restoring a CIA secret detention program.
Also, a draft executive order seen by Reuters that Trump is expected to sign in the coming days would block the entry of refugees from war-torn Syria and suspend the entry of any immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and African countries Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen while permanent rules are studied.
Trump’s executive orders on Wednesday signaled a tough action toward the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, whom he already has threatened to deport.
In a move critics called a slight to the integrity of American democracy, Trump also said he would seek a “major investigation” into what he believes was voter fraud in the November election, despite overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts and politicians that it is rare in the United States.
“We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States,” Trump told an audience that included relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants at the Department of Homeland Security after signing two executive orders.
The directives ordered the construction of a multibillion-dollar “wall” along the roughly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, moved to strip federal funding from sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants and expanded the force of U.S. anti-immigration agents.
His plans prompted an outcry from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally, and soiling America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes.
“The border wall is about political theater at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.
“It is not national security policy. Border communities are among the safest in the nation, and patrolling them with tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risks. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones,” Ramirez said.
The White House said the wall would stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration into the United States.
The immigration crackdown has sparked fear among “dreamers,” whose parents brought them to the United States illegally and who received deportation relief and work permits from President Barack Obama’s administration.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said “dreamers” should not be worried. “We’re focused on physical security of the border, we’re focused on those who are coming to do us harm from terrorist states and things like that,” he told MSNBC.
TENSION WITH MEXICO
Trump’s actions could further test relations with Mexico.
Trump’s policies, including his demand that the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada be renegotiated or scrapped, have put Mexico’s government on the defensive. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are due to meet next week.
Pena Nieto said he “regrets and disapproves” of the push by Trump to build a new wall along the border.
Officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk under Trump’s move.
Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately and he said Mexico would pay back to the United States “100 percent” of the costs. Mexican officials repeatedly said that is not going to happen.
The cost, nature and extent of the wall remain unclear. Trump last year put the cost at “probably $8 billion,” although other estimates are higher, and he said the wall would span 1,000 miles because of the terrain of the border.
END OF ‘CATCH AND RELEASE’
Trump’s directives would end the practice known by critics as “catch and release” in which authorities apprehend illegal immigrants on U.S. territory but do not immediately detain or deport them.
The directives also include hiring 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
They also create more detention space along the southern border to make it easier to detain and deport people.
Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Roberta Rampton, Jonathan Landay, Mark Hosenball, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan, Mohammad Zargham, Eric Beech and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney.