There’s one fundamental difference between the new White House and the old when it comes to immigration: Barack Obama ordered his administration not to enforce a number of immigration laws. Donald Trump has ordered his administration to enforce them.
Trump’s two immigration executive orders, issued Wednesday, are long, far-reaching, and complicated. But perhaps the most consequential passage in the two combined orders is a single sentence: “The purpose of this order is to direct executive departments and agencies to employ all lawful means to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.”
That is the heart of Trump’s immigration strategy. “We do not need new laws,” the president said at the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday. “We will work within the existing system and framework.”
Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border dominated coverage of the two executive orders. But the orders do much, much more than that — or at least they start the process of doing much, much more. For those who follow immigration closely, the Trump orders contain several critical provisions. Among them:
1) End “catch and release.” In the Obama years, as thousands of people, mostly from Central America, crossed the Mexican border illegally — and made no effort to escape apprehension, asking for a “permiso” to stay — the border authorities would briefly detain them, give them a date to show up in court, and let them go. The practice was known as “catch and release.”
It did not take a rocket scientist to predict that most, now safely inside the U.S., would not show up for court. With family units who arrived in that fashion, immigration court statistics gathered by the Center for Immigration Studies (a group which favors tighter immigration restrictions), reveal that 84 percent do not show up in court.
Under Trump’s new directive, the Department of Homeland Security will now detain those illegal crossers and handle their cases on the spot. “The Secretary [of DHS] shall immediately take all appropriate actions to ensure the detention of aliens apprehended for violations of immigration law,” the order on border enforcement says, “pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the country to the extent permitted by law.”
“They will be setting up detention facilities and have asylum officers and immigration judges on hand to deal with these cases right away, instead of releasing them into the country to disappear, or claim a work permit,” notes the Center for Immigration Studies’s Jessica Vaughan.
2) Put pressure on “sanctuary cities.” Trump spoke often during the campaign about cities and counties that openly defy federal immigration law. He frequently cited the case of Kate Steinle, the young woman murdered in San Francisco in 2015 by a criminal illegal immigrant who had been convicted of multiple felonies and deported multiple times, yet was still protected from another deportation by local officials enforcing San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.