What Trump’s Executive Orders Mean

Big immigration day in DC with significant implications for the future.

President Trump’s executive orders, among other measures, called for building a wall at the southern border, increasing border and interior enforcement resources, and ending so-called sanctuary cities.

Our summary of the border enforcement order can be found here, and the interior enforcement order is summarized here.

Let me be clear, we had no expectation these orders would advance a constructive approach to the immigration system. Trump is following through on campaign promises.

Yet, upon a sober analysis of the policies, not the politics, we are deeply concerned by the extent of the orders. Just a few highlights:

  • Section 13 of the Border Security order states, “The Attorney General shall take all appropriate steps to establish prosecution guidelines and allocate appropriate resources to ensure that Federal prosecutors accord a high priority to prosecutions of offenses having a nexus to the southern border.” We interpret this language as increasing criminal prosecutions of border crossers, including first-time border crossers, which siphons resources from prosecutions of serious criminal activity such as the trafficking of guns, drugs and money.
  • Section 5 of the Interior Enforcement order overhauls current enforcement priorities of those with criminal convictions for serious offenses, dramatically expanding it to encompass those with convictions for “any criminal offense,” individuals “charged with any criminal offense,” individuals who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” and those who have “engaged in any fraud or misrepresentation in any official matter before a governmental agency.” We interpret this language to mean that almost anyone (from a jaywalker to a serious criminal to someone who lied on a federal form) is a priority for deportation.
  • Both executive orders include several provisions that would conflate the roles of federal and local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws, which would undermine community policing that depends on trust from community members.

In addition to these border and interior enforcement orders, Trump is expected to issue executive orders related to refugee resettlement programs later this week — a draft of which was posted by the Los Angeles Times.

In summary, these executive orders raise serious policy questions. They make nearly all undocumented immigrants an enforcement priority, stretching limited resources. They undermine local law enforcement’s efforts to build trust and keep all of us safe. And, they dishonor our American value of welcoming refugees.

There is a better way to keep the country safe, to ensure American workers and their families get a better deal and to build a more inclusive society. Effective deployment of enforcement resources, trust in the expertise of local law enforcement and the legalization of the undocumented in order to ferret out true bad actors would be a start.

One thing to keep in mind: To fully carry out many of today’s orders requires action from Congress.

Which means all eyes will be on congressional Republicans and how they respond. (They are retreating in Philadelphia as you read this.) In making our safety and security priority numero uno, Republicans need to put forward effective approaches that are risk-based and not a drain on American workers and taxpayers. The credit is for the taking.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.