WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - President Donald Trump is planning to sign executive orders on Wednesday (Jan 25) toughening immigration enforcement along the US-Mexico border and targeting cities where local leaders refuse to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation, part of a multi-day roll out of his long-promised crackdown on illegal immigration, officials familiar with the decision said.
Later this week, officials said, the president plans to sign other orders restricting immigration and access to the United States for refugees and some visa holders from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, though the exact timing was being arranged late Tuesday and subject to change. Residents from many of these places are already rarely granted US visas.
The moves represent Mr Trump’s first effort to deliver on perhaps the signature issue that drove his presidential campaign: his belief that illegal immigration is out of control and threatening the country’s safety and security.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump is planning to speak to a town hall of employees at Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, where he will sign the orders.
The effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities will resonate with the Republican base, which has long criticised local officials who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Senior Trump advisers such as Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon and Attorney General designate Jeff Sessions were deeply involved in the extended debate over the orders, said several people familiar with the discussions, who emphasised that the week’s actions are intended to start fulfilling Mr Trump’s campaign promises on immigration and bring Republicans behind Mr Trump on the issue, one day before he speaks on Thursday at a congressional GOP retreat in Philadelphia. These people spoke of condition of anonymity because the executive orders are still being finalised.
While Mr Trump’s immigration efforts this week are widely seen inside the White House as a victory for the self-described populist wing of his inner circle – which includes Mr Bannon, Mr Sessions and top policy adviser Stephen Miller – there are ongoing discussions about just how far to go on some policies, in particular the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.
The 2012 initiative has given temporary protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in the United States as children. Mr Trump vowed during the campaign to reverse it.
It was not yet clear on Wednesday how DACA would be addressed as part of Mr Trump’s immigration actions, if at all, according to a White House official, due to differing views among his advisers and associates about the timing, scope, and political benefits of ending the program or suspending it for new entries.
But whether DACA will be the target of an executive order remained unclear late Tuesday as discussions continued at the White House over how and when to address the program.“Many options are being worked through on DACA,” the official said.
A second person close to Mr Trump noted that Mr Sessions remains highly influential and said during his Senate confirmation hearing this month that ending DACA “would certainly be constitutional.” The person said Mr Sessions and Mr Bannon are working to make sure DACA is not shelved or addressed but have not finalised a new policy with Mr Trump.
White House aides said Mr Trump planned to meet on Wednesday with several parents of children who were killed by illegal immigrants. These activists, who refer to themselves as “angel moms,” were frequently featured during his campaign rallies and during the Republican National Convention.
Any immigration measures announced by the president will set up a fierce battle in his first week between the White House and advocates for immigrants, who were already reacting with alarm on Tuesday as word spread that immigration was on the table.
Immigration experts said they had been told the orders later this week would include a halt to all admissions of refugees for 120 days, including from the Syrian civil war, and a 30-day pause in issuance of immigrant and non-immigrant visas to people from some predominantly Muslim countries.
The visit to DHS is Mr Trump’s second to a Cabinet-level agency since he took office last Friday. He spoke to employees at the CIA’s headquarters in Northern Virginia on Saturday.
The presidential visit to DHS also symbolises some of the more controversial parts of Mr Trump’s agenda. He centred his campaign to some degree on his proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants, a plan that has been vehemently opposed by Democrats and immigrant advocates.
Mr Trump has also promised to beef up immigration enforcement along the border and inside the United States – including a tripling of the number of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents – in an expensive and logistically difficult operation to remove millions of people from the country.
Perhaps most in dispute were Mr Trump’s campaign comments on Muslims. He called at one point for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States as a counter-terrorism measure, and said he would halt immigration from Syria and deport Syrian refugees already in the country.
It is unclear how this week’s executive actions, orchestrated from the White House, will sit with the man who would enforce them: DHS secretary John Kelly. Gen Kelly, a retired Marine general who was confirmed on Friday, struck a markedly different tone from the president during his confirmation hearing, saying the controversial southwest border wall might not “be built anytime soon.”
Gen Kelly noted that when he was a Marine officer in Iraq, his forces secured stability in part by reaching out to clerics and other Muslim leaders. He also vowed to promote “tolerance” and said he didn’t think it was appropriate to target any group of people solely based on religion or ethnic background, including through the development of a registry.
DHS declined to comment on Tuesday. But people familiar with the matter said Gen Kelly, known for his blunt manner, is already under intense pressure from the White House to enforce the immigration crackdown on which Mr Trump built his campaign.