In September, Donald Trump laid out a ten-point plan for immigration, emphasizing border security, the enforcement of immigration laws, and the removal of criminal aliens. The president’s latest executive orders — one directing the construction of a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border, the other stripping federal grant money from sanctuary cities — are a first step toward making good on those promises.
On Wednesday, the president ordered Executive Branch agencies “to deploy all lawful means to secure the Nation’s southern border,” which includes the “construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” The rough terrain along parts of the U.S.–Mexico border likely militates against the “big, beautiful wall” that Trump envisions, but erecting physical barriers along further stretches of the 2,000 miles dividing the U.S. from its southern neighbor is an obvious and long-neglected tool to help clamp down on America’s ongoing illegal-immigration problem.
These orders are a good start toward reorienting American immigration policy so that it favors the interests of American citizens over their foreign counterparts. However, they are only a start.
While the construction of a wall, and the potential deployment of technology such as below-ground sensors at the border, will be a helpful impediment to would-be lawbreakers, the crucial work will continue to be done by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agencies, which are woefully understaffed. Trump’s executive orders suggest bolstering these organizations with 10,000 and 5,000 new hires, respectively, and Trump has also announced the end of the catch-and-release policy that characterized the Obama administration’s approach to border security. Congress should work with him to secure both of those plans.
The crucial work will continue to be done by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agencies, which are woefully understaffed.
A similar principle applies to legal immigration. Reshaping the immigration system to serve the interests of American workers will require reducing levels of low-skilled immigration, as well as ensuring that employers do not use the country’s visa programs — for example, the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers — to undercut American workers.
Encouragingly, much of this was included in Trump’s immigration plan from the campaign. If enacted, these policies would do much to reduce the number of illegal immigrants currently in the country (many of whom are very sensitive to changes in their economic situation) and to discourage further illegal immigration. That would make it significantly easier to deal with those illegal immigrants who remain.
Of course, most of these policies will have to be hammered out with Congress. President Trump would be wise to steer clear of the abuse of executive authority demonstrated by his predecessor — because such abuses are unconstitutional, but also because they can be immediately overturned by future executives.
President Trump has an opportunity to reshape American immigration policy for the better. He has made a good start — but the real tests are still to come.