Trump’s Progress On Immigration
Before he lit the immigration fuse in his fiery campaign speech in Phoenix by threatening a government shutdown if Congress fails to fund a wall on the southern border, President Trump paid a visit to Yuma for a sober assessment of progress to curtail illegal boarder crossings. It was a stark contrast between Trump as president and Trump as campaigner.
From the very start of his campaign in June 2016, Trump has made immigration reform a key element of his quest for the presidency and his performance as chief executive. Throughout, immigration has remained a lightning rod for partisan debate as well as the source of sharp division within the Republican Party.
As displayed on Tuesday night in Phoenix, Trump continues to get a wildly enthusiastic response from his faithful supporters. Chants of “Build the Wall” fill the arena whenever Trump returns to a campaign theme that touched a nerve with voters concerned about economic security and national sovereignty.
So far Trump’s progress in fulfilling his immigration agenda is a mixed collection of successes and incompletes. Nevertheless, the record is not without a steady march toward a more secure border, a decrease in border crossings, and effective law enforcement procedures, all designed to alter immigration policies of the Obama administration.
In a comprehensive overview of Trump’s progress on immigration, Fred Lucas, White House correspondent for the Daily Signal, sorted out the facts from the political debate to provide an assessment of promises kept, progress on some initiatives, and the reasons why others are stalled. Here is his assessment of seven key elements of immigration reform after the first months of the Trump administration:
*Build the Wall
The wall was arguably Trump’s central campaign promise, and one of the biggest crowd pleasers with his audiences.
Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal calls for $1.6 billion as a down payment to pay for a double-layered wall across parts of the southern border with Mexico, with the long-term goal of having Mexico reimbursing the United States Treasury for the wall. Days after taking office in January, Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to immediately begin planning for “a physical wall on the southern border.” Customs and Border Patrol posted a pre-solicitation notice asking for a request for proposal “for the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.”
The wall is already authorized by the 2006 Secure Fence Act, but needs funding to build it. However, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has threatened to shut down the government before funding the wall. “The $1.6 billion is a pittance of what it will ultimately cost, but it costs $100 billion in benefits to illegal immigrants, so a wall will be a good investment,” Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is tracking the status of Trump’s promises, told The Daily Signal.
*More Border Agents
The same day as Trump’s executive order for the wall, Jan. 25, the president signed a second order calling for the hiring of 5,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents. However, the number of agents today is down by 220 compared with what it was when Trump took office, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Times article noted problems in staffing for the Border Patrol since 2010, currently with 2,000 vacancies. Also, the agency has to increase screening for agents, according to recent audits by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.
Customs and Border Patrol would have to screen 750,000 applicants to hire an additional 5,000, according to an inspector general report released on July 17. Another inspector general report released on Aug. 4 found the agency spent more than $5 million to give polygraph tests to applicants that already admitted to committing crimes, which included illegal drug use, drug smuggling, human trafficking and rape. “Hiring those border agents is going to be a significant challenge, regardless of funding and resources,” David Inserra, a homeland security policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.
*Catch and Release
Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented new charging guidelines in April to end the catch-and-release policies of the Obama administration for illegal immigrants entering the country by prioritizing criminal immigration enforcement to deter illegal entry into the country. Catch and release is when either ICE or Border Patrol would apprehend an illegal immigrant, then release the offender with a notice to appear in immigration court. The illegal immigrant often wouldn’t show up for the court date.
“The argument for catch and release is, there are only a finite number of jail cells and alternative detentions,” Inserra said. The problem, he added, was that the Obama administration made that argument while at the same time pulling funding from detention facilities.
*Blocking Funding for Sanctuary Cities
The state of California and the cities of San Francisco and Chicago have announced plans to sue the Trump administration for withholding some Justice Department grants from cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials.
Sessions was in Miami-Dade County, Florida, last week to praise jurisdictions for moving into compliance with the new Justice Department rules and to excoriate jurisdictions suing the federal government.
One of Trump’s first executive orders told sanctuary cities that failure to fully abide by federal immigration laws would jeopardize access to certain federal grant money. In July, the Justice Department laid out new guidelines.
The Justice Department hasn’t withheld funds from any jurisdiction yet. Mehlman says the policy needs to be codified through the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act, with versions in both houses of Congress, sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., respectively. “There needs to be real legislation,” Mehlman said. “[Trump] isn’t going to be president forever. We’ll be subject to the whims of a future president.”
The Trump administration canceled the Obama administration’s 2014 Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA. The program sought to shield from deportation the parents of children protected from deportation under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA.
However, in a split Supreme Court decision, DAPA essentially died last year when a lower court decision striking the policy down was upheld.
“The real question is DACA, which appears to be headed for a states’ [legal] challenge,” Inserra said. “If the administration doesn’t defend the policy, that would be a long way of canceling [it], through the courts.”
In June, 10 state attorneys general wrote the Justice Department threatening possible legal action. The Justice Department hasn’t indicated whether it will defend DACA, but Inserra has his doubts.
Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he expects that the Trump administration could attempt to offer an extension of DACA as a bargaining chip with congressional Democrats to pass a bill that would implement a merit-based immigration system.
As a candidate, Trump mostly talked about stopping illegal immigration. But earlier this month, the president backed a bill sponsored by Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Purdue of Georgia to shift from a family-based immigration system to a merit-based system. The bill, which would also limit legal immigration, is called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or the RAISE Act.
Roy Beck, of NumbersUSA, who was critical of Trump for not going after employers of illegal immigrants, praised the president for throwing the weight of the White House behind the RAISE Act.
However, the proposal is reportedly facing Republican skepticism or outright opposition from GOP Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Courts have all but stopped Trump’s plans for extreme vetting, a policy that opponents call a “Muslim ban” because it affects majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa that lack a functional government.
On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order for a 120-day pause to temporarily block immigration from seven terrorism hot spots—Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. He issued a new order in March, dropping Iraq from the list. The Trump administration sought to suspend issuance of visas to any country where screening can’t occur. The policy is on its way to the Supreme Court.
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During the course of his career, Walker has worked in Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Phoenix. He served as a reporter in Chicago, a press secretary and speechwriter in Washington, and in numerous positions in New York in corporate and financial services communications.
Walker is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.