President Trump signed a pair of executive orders on Wednesday stepping up immigration enforcement efforts and calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” Trump touted the actions in a speech at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday afternoon.
“As I’ve said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out, the criminals, and the drug deals, and gangs, and gang members, and cartel leaders. The day is over when they can stay in our country and wreak havoc. We are going to get them out. We are going to get them out fast,” Trump said.
In his speech, Trump argued that the U.S. is “in the middle of a crisis on our southern border” owing to “the unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central America” and drug cartel activity. He also stressed that his immigration reform measures would improve the U.S.’s relationship with Mexico and help both nations by “deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks.”
“I believe the steps we will take starting right now will improve the safety in both our countries, going to be very, very good for Mexico,” Trump said. “A nation without borders is not a nation. Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders, gets back its borders.”
One of Trump’s executive orders called for the immediate construction of a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier” on the border with Mexico. The border wall — and having Mexico pay for it — was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed the order in his daily press briefing earlier in the day. He called it “a commonsense first step to really securing our porous border” and insisted that “Mexico will pay for it,” as Trump had vowed. Trump has called for construction of the wall to begin before any money comes in from Mexico, which has said it will not finance the project.
When he took questions from reporters, Spicer was asked specifically how Mexico would pay for the wall and whether he believes Republicans in Congress would fund the project in the meantime. Spicer suggested that there are multiple “mechanisms” through which Mexico could finance wall construction and indicated that, just days after taking office, Trump has had multiple discussions with congressional leaders in which he urged them to “make sure” there is funding.
“I think the president is working with Congress and other folks to figure out opportunities for that to happen. There are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used. At this point, his goal was to get the project started as quickly as possible using existing funds and resources that the [Department of Homeland Security] currently has and then to move forward and work with Congress on an appropriations schedule,” Spicer said.
Trump’s executive orders also call for the defunding of so-called sanctuary cities, in which officials refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation. One of the orders granted the homeland security secretary and attorney general the power to ensure that those cities “are not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.”
“The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws,” Spicer said.
Trump is also seeking an end to what his administration calls the current “catch and release” policy, under which undocumented immigrants are released while they wait for a hearing or an immigration judge. One of the orders noted that officials should “prioritize” the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. The order also allows for visa sanctions against countries that refuse to take back people deported by the United States.
“Tens of thousands of removable aliens have been released into communities across the country, solely because their home countries refuse to accept their repatriation. Many of these aliens are criminals who have served time in our Federal, State, and local jails. The presence of such individuals in the United States, and the practices of foreign nations that refuse the repatriation of their nationals, are contrary to the national interest,” the order said.
Trump is also calling for the construction of detention facilities on the border in order to speed deportations.
“We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin,” Spicer said.
Trump wants to hire 10,000 immigration officers and 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, as well as the establish an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens” in the Department of Homeland Security. He is ordering the department to publish weekly reports of “criminal actions committed by aliens” and jurisdictions that ignore or refuse to comply with orders to detain undocumented immigrants.
The executive orders do not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16 to obtain work permits. The program is one of the most hotly debated aspects of immigration policy, and Trump once vowed to undo it, but has since muddled his position.
In his briefing, Spicer was asked whether Trump is planning any executive orders that would affect DACA. He reiterated that Trump’s top priority was deporting criminals.
“He’s a family man. He understands. He has a huge heart and he understands the significance of this problem, but he’s going to work through it with his team in a very humane way,” Spicer said. “He understands that. He respects the situation that many of these children are in. They were brought here.”
Trump is also expected to sign an executive order that would block Syrian refugees from entering the country. According to the New York Times, that order would also place “a monthlong ban on allowing any person into the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen.” During the briefing, Yahoo News asked Spicer if any order banning refugees or immigrants from specific countries would include provisions that might affect those already in the United States, potentially placing them on a registry or deporting them. Spicer did not rule out those measures.