Trump’s Executive Orders on “Border Security” Are as Bad as We Expected

The president wasted no time to start targeting immigrants.

John Washington February 1, 2017

Though the executive orders are just a first step, GOP lawmakers have already signaled that they will authorize between $12 and $15 billion dollars for wall construction. Though concerted efforts of resistance could scare Trump and his administration into backpedaling, protection and advocacy networks are digging in for a protracted fight. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took his first steps last week toward ful­fill­ing his anti-immi­grant cam­paign promis­es to build a bor­der wall, deport undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and effec­tive­ly ter­ror­ize immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. Even before the refugee ban order he signed, spark­ing con­fu­sion and protests across the coun­try, he signed two exec­u­tive orders Wednes­day, which were wide­ly con­demned by crit­ics decry­ing the poten­tial depor­ta­tion of mil­lions of immi­grants, the envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion of bor­der­lands and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of his­toric Amer­i­can val­ues. In sum, Trump’s first week in office was a scourge on immi­grants, refugees, asy­lum seek­ers and their communities.

'People and the environment will pay the ultimate price.'

Among the many con­tro­ver­sial items in the Wednes­day orders is a call for the fur­ther con­struc­tion of immi­grant deten­tion facil­i­ties. New or expand­ed facil­i­ties would like­ly be built and man­aged by pri­vate prison com­pa­nies con­tract­ed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, despite the fact that many pri­vate pris­ons and deten­tion cen­ters have been accused of heinous, and some­times dead­ly, abuse.

The orders also pull fund­ing from so-called sanc­tu­ary cities, which, accord­ing to the orders, cause immea­sur­able harm to Amer­i­can peo­ple and to the very fab­ric of our Repub­lic.” Yet, as a new study pub­lished by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress con­cludes: Crime is sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant­ly low­er in sanc­tu­ary coun­ties com­pared to non-sanc­tu­ary coun­ties. More­over, economies are stronger in sanc­tu­ary coun­ties.” May­ors in major cities across the coun­try respond­ed prompt­ly, pledg­ing to defy Trump’s immi­gra­tion orders.

Anoth­er wor­ri­some impli­ca­tion, accord­ing to Jeanne Atkin­son, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Catholic Legal Immi­gra­tion Net­work (CLIN­IC), is the mas­sive expan­sion of depor­ta­tion and deten­tion prac­tices.” Despite Trump’s hir­ing freeze of fed­er­al work­ers, his exec­u­tive orders call for the hir­ing of 5,000 new Bor­der Patrol agents and 10,000 new Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) agents. Atkin­son notes that there is noth­ing in the orders, how­ev­er, about hir­ing new immi­gra­tion judges, which, along with the orders’ direc­tive to ter­mi­nate the prac­tice of catch-and-release — under which immi­grants await­ing court hear­ings are released — could result in migrants lan­guish­ing for years in deten­tion centers.”

We know well,” Atkin­son said, how dehu­man­iz­ing deten­tion is, how re-trau­ma­tiz­ing it is.”

The orders also autho­rize state and local enforce­ment offi­cials to do the work of immi­gra­tion offi­cers. Crit­ics have long argued that such a set­up under­mines trust between com­mu­ni­ties and police and leads to less safe cities, with some res­i­dents hes­i­tant to report crimes for fear of inter­act­ing with police. John Sandweg, a for­mer ICE direc­tor, told Politi­co that Trump’s order to dep­u­tize police as immi­gra­tion offi­cers is going to sweep up a lot of fam­i­lies, a lot of folks who have chil­dren, a lot of folks who have been here a long time.”

But it is the orders’ direc­tive about the wall that has gar­nered the most atten­tion and crit­i­cism (until it was super­seded by out­rage over the refugee and Mus­lim-focused ban). The orders, which prompt­ed Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent Enrique Peña Nieto to can­cel a planned trip to the White House, direct Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty John Kel­ly to imme­di­ate­ly plan, design, and con­struct a phys­i­cal wall along the south­ern border.”

Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen. Dianne Fein­stein issued a state­ment call­ing the exec­u­tive actions unclear,” say­ing they won’t help fix our immi­gra­tion sys­tem.” In 2006, how­ev­er, Fein­stein, joined by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Hilary Clin­ton, and then-Sen. Barack Oba­ma, vot­ed for the Secure Fence Act, which Trump’s order- ref­er­ences, and which autho­rized the con­struc­tion of 700 miles of new walls and fenc­ing along the U.S.-Mexico bor­der. Also, notably, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion deport­ed 2.7 mil­lion people.

The lan­guage of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy, as evoked by his exec­u­tive orders, is much in line with the blus­ter and ven­om of his cam­paign, except now there are actu­al — and dev­as­tat­ing — con­se­quences. The pre­am­ble to one of the orders states Ille­gal immi­gra­tion presents a clear and present dan­ger to the inter­ests of the Unit­ed States.” Clear and present dan­ger” is a legal term used by the Supreme Court to deter­mine when it is per­mis­si­ble to lim­it free speech, and is not used to describe a kinet­ic threat (espe­cial­ly when there is none) or a rise in immigration.

The Sier­ra Club was among the many orga­ni­za­tions to oppose Trump’s exec­u­tive orders, stat­ing: Like a hotel with his name in gold above the door, Trump’s Mex­i­can bor­der wall would be an ugly mon­u­ment to his ego. It will cost bil­lions in U.S. tax­pay­er dol­lars, while caus­ing flood­ing, and harm to bor­der com­mu­ni­ties and wildlife.”

[The] same walls that are fun­nel­ing peo­ple to their deaths are the walls that are impact­ing wildlife and pro­tect­ed land­scapes,” said Dan Mil­lis, bor­der­lands pro­gram coor­di­na­tor with the Sier­ra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.

Though the exec­u­tive orders are just a first step, GOP law­mak­ers have already sig­naled that they will autho­rize between $12 and $15 bil­lion dol­lars for wall con­struc­tion. Though con­cert­ed efforts of resis­tance could scare Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion into backpedal­ing, pro­tec­tion and advo­ca­cy net­works are dig­ging in for a pro­tract­ed fight.

Peo­ple and the envi­ron­ment,” Mil­lis said, will pay the ulti­mate price.”

John Wash­ing­ton is a writer based in Ari­zona. He is the co-trans­la­tor of A His­to­ry of Vio­lence (Ver­so, 2016), by Sal­vado­ran author Óscar Mar­tinez. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @EndDeportations.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH