"This is a law-enforcement agency."
That's what President Trump told Department of Homeland Security staff Wednesday after he signed two executive orders on immigration enforcement.
The fact that he had to say that – and that the assembled ICE agents, Border Patrol officers, and others heartily applauded – tells you all you need to know about how badly Obama gutted immigration enforcement and torpedoed employee morale.
The two executive orders dealt with border and interior enforcement. They are substantive and far-reaching, a change from the pabulum and generalities we usually get from politicians. Some of the directives will have immediate impact, while others will require congressional action and will take time to bear fruit.
Border. The border enforcement order led off with the wall, naturally, calling for "the immediate construction of a physical wall." The definitions section allowed for some wiggle room, saying "‘Wall' shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier."
Though the wall provisions get the press attention, more important might be the other parts of the border directive. For instance, it directs that border infiltrators be dealt with at the border, and not released into the country with a summons to appear in court, often years in the future. The order calls for the construction or contracting of more detention facilities, plus the assignment of asylum officers and immigration judges on site. This represents the termination of what the order itself calls "the practice commonly known as ‘catch and release.'" (Border Patrol union chief Brandon Judd testified last year that more than 80 percent of infiltrators apprehended by the Border Patrol are released into the U.S.)
It also calls for the "proper application" of the law governing the treatment of unaccompanied children who have been trafficked into the U.S. Obama's people used that law (the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008) as a pretext to allow the de facto permanent settlement of thousands of Central American minors who were neither unaccompanied nor trafficked (and often not even minors). Rather than being kidnapped or tricked by what we used to call white slavers seeking fresh meat for the sex trade – the intended beneficiaries of the law – Obama extended its protections to young people coming voluntarily, accompanied by smugglers who'd been paid by their illegal-alien parents in the U.S. This has been one of the main reasons for the surge in border infiltrations in south Texas.
Interior. The order on interior enforcement is also going to have real impact. The part that got the most attention was the directive to cut off funding to sanctuary cities – jurisdictions that take it upon themselves to decide whether an illegal alien's crimes are serious enough to warrant deportation, rather than leaving that judgment up to the federal immigration authorities. (We have a map of them here.)
But there's a lot more there, including restoration of the 287g program, which deputizes local authorities to start the deportation paperwork; reinstituting the successful Secure Communities program to identify immigration violators when they're booked by local cops; and a cutoff of visas for countries that refuse to take back their own citizens when we try to deport them.
Another seemingly minor goal of the executive order will have important consequences: increasing transparency of information. There are to be regular reports on the immigration status of inmates in prisons and jails and weekly reporting of crimes committed by non-citizens, including those instances when sanctuary cities released someone DHS wanted to deport. These statistics will represent an ongoing source of political pressure on sanctuary cities and the anti-borders crowd more generally. The order also specifies that DHS is to stop the Obama-era practice of pretending that the federal Privacy Act applies to illegal aliens, which it specifically does not.
Finally, the interior enforcement executive order includes a matter that genuinely seems close to the president's heart – the families of people who were killed by illegal aliens. It establishes an Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens, an important change in perspective for DHS. Up to now, DHS has been told its customers are the aliens themselves, which is why Obama created the position of ICE Public Advocate and USCIS Ombudsman, both of them serving as advocates for foreigners trying to get or stay in the U.S. The new victims' services office makes clear DHS's clientele is the American people, not foreigners.
The resonance of the families' plight was clear when Trump concluded his comments to DHS staff with an extended discussion of the victim families, some half-dozen of whom were present and whom he recognized individually, naming their lost relatives in turn. Referring to anti-borders folks who complain that immigration enforcement splits families, he said "they don't talk about American families forever separated from the ones they love." Regarding their role in shining a light on our shamefully lax immigration system, President Trump told them, "I want you to know that your children will not have lost their lives for no reason."
The big thing that was missing from the interior enforcement order was any reference to worksite enforcement or E-Verify. Maybe they will be the subject of future policy directives; the outlines of several more orders have already been leaked, including one addressing visa-tracking and the arrival of people from terror-ridden nations in the Middle East. Vox has drafts of several more that seem legit, including one ending DACA (though why they didn't just suspend processing on Day One, before the order's legal details were fully nailed down, I don't know).
Of course, all this relates only to enforcing the law. Any reduction in legal immigration – which is the most important objective from a jobs or welfare or even security perspective – has to come from Congress. The good news is that Sen. Tom Cotton is apparently working on a bill to do just that.
In any case, Trump campaigned as an immigration hawk and seems determined to actually govern that way. There will be plenty more tests of his commitment to following through – defiant sanctuary cities, greedy employers, leftist lawfare warriors, oleaginous lobbyists. But the new administration's immigration kick-off is a resounding success.