Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A wall using taxpayer money, revival of a draconian policy of policing immigrants, and punishments for “sanctuary cities” have widespread implications.
In two fresh executive orders on Wednesday, President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration, as promised during his election campaign. He signed off on building a border wall, ramping up policing of immigrants, and punishing the so-called “sanctuary cities.” These policies, which immigrants’ rights groups call “immoral,” will have widespread economic, legal, and demographic implications for U.S. cities.
‘Immediate construction’ on the wall
At a town hall at the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the president announced that he’d given a green light to the “immediate construction” of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which he said is “badly needed.” “Starting today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders,” Trump said.
The estimated funding for this wall could be up to $25 billion, and will come from existing federal funds (and certainly not likely from Mexico). The administration plans to work with Congress to appropriate more funds as required in coming months. Ultimately, this might wedge Republicans against their own proverbial wall, or even prompt a government shutdown when it comes time to pass a spending bill in April, as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips explains.
Not only are border walls expensive, experts say they are also not effective ways to curb illegal immigration. (For context: Since the Great Recession, illegal migration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America has been declining.) Various lawmakers in the Republican Party agree. The president’s own appointee to the Department of Homeland Security, General John Kelly subscribes to that view. And given that less than half of the public regards it as an important issue, Trump doesn’t necessarily have the mandate to push through this effort. Although a majority of Republican voters have been gunning for it, per a Pew survey, the ones who actually live in border cities next to existing border fences have seen first-hand that these are mostly symbolic structures, rather than functional ones.
Ramping up policing and border security
The order also eliminates the “catch-and-release” policy, through which individuals who were apprehended while crossing the border illegally can be released from detention while their case proceeds through immigration court. As a result, border crossers, including women and children seeking asylum, may be held for years in facilities with often-harrowing conditions. In addition, Trump has called for the tripling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and adding 5,000 more border patrol agents, ballooning the capacity of an already formidable immigration enforcement apparatus.
Replacing President Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), the Trump administration is also reviving the Secure Communities program, which ran from 2008 to 2014. Under this policy, anyone booked into a local prison can be fair game for ICE, regardless of whether or not that individual has been charged or convicted for an actual crime. Hispanic immigrants are regularly targeted, even in the most liberal of communities, for minor offenses like traffic violations and loitering. And this policy heightens the probability that even innocent undocumented immigrants will be swept up in the deportation dragnet.
The executive order asks the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to:
...authorize State and local law enforcement officials, as the Secretary determines are qualified and appropriate, to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States under the direction and the supervision of the Secretary. Such authorization shall be in addition to, rather than in place of, Federal performance of these duties.
Mayors, including Republican ones, have opposed diverting local law enforcement to do the work of immigration enforcement, arguing that it frays trust between the police and local immigrant communities—a claim that research backs up.
A crackdown on ‘sanctuary cities’
In a second order, “sanctuary cities”—the rough term given to counties and municipalities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities to varying degrees—will be punished. Per the order:
Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic…Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.
It’s not yet clear what streams of federal funding will be cut from these cities. As my colleague Natalie Delgadillo has reported, some cities’ budgets could be slashed as much as 20 percent, while in others, less than 1 percent might be affected. Coercing local governments to comply by withholding funds also opens the door to lawsuits, legal experts write, as “sanctuary cities,” for one thing, have a right to opt out of cooperating with federal immigration authorities. (There is also no evidence that they have more crime.)
The grim future of DACA
Wednesday’s orders didn’t address the fate of those immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, and have been given lawful status through President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action Through Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Plan. “The president understands the magnitude of this problem. He’s a family man,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing today. “He’s going to work through it with his team in a very humane way.” But according to drafts for future executive orders obtained by Vox, the Trump administration has no intention of retaining DACA. That means for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, who are concentrated in urban areas around the country, the right to legally stay and work in the country would run out in 2019.