After the election, President Trump released a 100-day action plan outlining the future priorities of his administration, including rolling back immigrant rights. Within a week of taking office, he has acted on those directives.
On Friday, January 20, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. The following day, millions gathered at Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C. and cities across the country and globe to voice their support and solidarity for a range of issues under threat, among them immigrant rights. Since then, the new president has issued three immigration-related executive orders. The actions seek to build a U.S.–Mexico border wall, expand border enforcement, suspend the refugee program, withhold federal funding to sanctuary cities, and ban individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The KBI was swift in responding, and issued a press release affirming its commitment to migrants and refugees and support of a compassionate immigration policy, and denouncing the actions as divisive and inhumane. (Read the entire press release: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/kbi-responds-trumps-executive-order-calls-protection-human-dignity-border/.)
While news surrounding the executive orders is changing daily, if not hourly, here are summaries of public reactions and legal responses to the actions’ various provisions as of this writing, and updates about other immigration-related policy issues.
Border Wall and Enforcement: Following through on an early campaign promise, Trump issued an executive action to build a wall along the 2,000 mile border with Mexico, expand border enforcement by some 5,000 agents, and increase detention. Since filing the order, he has announced plans to deputize local police officers in borderland cities to enforce federal immigration law, relying on a pre-existing program instituted in 2009. The likelihood of Congress approving the $15–20 million required to construct the wall is slim, but the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has accompanied this order is troubling.
Mexican President Peña Nieto has rejected Trump’s assertion that Mexico will pay for the wall, and canceled upcoming plans to visit the U.S., giving rise to concerns that even if the executive order does not result in a border wall, it has already damaged binational solidarity with Mexico and alienated a major U.S. trading partner. (In 2015, trade with Mexico totaled $16.8 billion in Arizona alone.) Many local leaders, business owners, landowners, and residents along the border contest the need for constructing a wall, and the Tohono O’odham nation whose lands straddle 75 miles of the border have declared that they will not permit it to be built. A plan to impose a 20% import tax to fund construction was floated, but does not appear to be viable.
Though the wall is a political long shot, increasing the border enforcement budget and the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents is a more achievable—and therefore, unsettling—prospect. According to KBI research in 2015, a third of the migrants who visited the comedor or stayed at the shelter reported instances of harassment or abuse while detained. In the last 14 months alone, the KBI has filed 45 abuse complaints on behalf of migrants. Posting more agents at the border, and in such a rash way, without first addressing training and accountability issues, potentially exacerbates abuse problems and diminishes security and safety for everyone.
Status of Refugees: One of the orders also suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program for the next 120 days, and halted processing for Syrian refugees indefinitely. This is a shocking development, inconsistent with basic American values and the principles of the KBI, and poses further delays and obstacles for refugees who have the right to seek protection in the U.S. These individuals and families are fleeing for their lives from war, poverty and persecution, and are already subject to intensive United Nations screening and years-long waits for the mere chance of being resettled in the U.S. And while the U.S. resettles thousands of refugees each year, this represents a paltry 1% of 21.3 million refugees worldwide, half of whom are under the age of 18.
One executive order also calls for expedited processing of asylum claims and moving screenings and hearings to detention facilities. We already know this sort of fast-tracked processing results in overlooked or poorly considered asylum claims and the deportation of individuals and families back to the life-threatening situations they fled. These cruel and ill-conceived policies are not only a violation of refugee rights, but for some—we can’t know how many—a death sentence. Moving credible fear interviews and court resources to detention centers, where most individuals do not have access to legal representation and are often too frightened and traumatized to share their experiences, will only intensify these problems. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to win an asylum case from detention and without legal counsel.
Other concerns about these orders are: prioritizing criminal prosecution of border crossers who may be refugees, a violation of international law; detaining asylum seekers rather than continuing the practice of release while cases are pending; expanding “expedited removal” (one form of deportation) which means individuals could be deported before being given the opportunity to file and asylum claim; and further family separation, already a heartbreaking burden borne by so many immigrant families. For more information about the effects of the executive actions on women and children, see: https://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/rights/gbv/resources/1422-10-things-to-know-about-how-trump-s-executive-order-will-harm-women-children-seeking-protection.
Sanctuary Cities: Since the election, a revival of the Sanctuary movement has been underway among houses of worship across the U.S., and many major cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and others—have announced their solidarity with their undocumented immigrants by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities.” Trump’s border-related executive order includes a provision for suspending federal funds to “sanctuary jurisdictions.” It is unclear how this determination will be applied, but San Francisco has filed a lawsuit challenging the provision, and further legal action is likely.
Immigrant Travel Ban: Despite no fatal U.S. terrorist attacks attributable to immigrants from the countries targeted by this ban in over four decades, President Trump cited national security as the reason behind his executive order banning entry to citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. Also notable, none of the 9/11 hijackers were from these nations. Widely seen as evidence of religious discrimination, the order has resulted in hundreds of individuals with valid visas and green cards detained in airports throughout the U.S.
On the day following the action, two of these immigrants, both Iraqi refugees detained at JFK International Airport, became plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with other groups. The executive order was the only reason cited for detaining them.
Public outcry was immediate, not only in New York but at airports throughout the country where nationals from these countries were subjected to “extreme vetting” and the threat of deportation despite already meeting extensive criteria to obtain special immigrant visas and green cards. Thousands demonstrated in solidarity with immigrants against the ban, and countless lawyers offered their services free of charge. In addition, President Obama, several foreign leaders, U.S. diplomats, and many federal lawmakers, including some Republicans (Arizona Senators Flake and McCain among them), have announced their opposition to the travel ban. Within hours, a federal court judge in Brooklyn issued a temporary stay of the order in response to the ACLU’s complaint, a short-term measure applying only to those individuals recently arrived or in transit. A week later, a Seattle-based federal judge imposed a nationwide temporary injunction on the travel ban, permitting those with appropriate documents to enter the country for now. It is not clear how the implementation of this executive order or the ACLU lawsuit will play out in the coming weeks and months. And though the ban does not apply to the refugees aided by the KBI, it has implications for how the Executive branch may treat other immigrant groups in the future.
Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA): No action has been taken on endorsing, extending, or eliminating this relief program instituted by President Obama in 2012. DACA allows individuals who entered the country as children, often called DREAMers, to obtain renewable 2-year stays of deportation in order to study or work in the U.S. Since the election of Trump, program participants have been fearful of losing their DACA status, and these recent executive orders only heighten these worries.