Trump places first brick in the wall

Julie Pace, Vivian Salama and Rachel Zoll
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump on Wednesday moved aggressively to tighten the nation’s immigration controls, signing executive actions to jump-start construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting “sanctuary cities.” As early as Thursday, he is expected to pause the flow of all refugees to the U.S. and indefinitely bar those fleeing war-torn Syria.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, right, gestures as he is introduced before speaking at the Homeland Security Department in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

“Beginning today the United States of America gets back control of its borders,” Trump declared during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security. “We are going to save lives on both sides of the border.”

The actions, less than a week into Trump’s presidency, fulfilled pledges that animated his candidacy and represented a dramatic redirection of U.S. immigration policy. They were cheered by Republicans allies in Congress, condemned by immigration advocates and the trigger for immediate new tension with the Mexican government.

Trump announced Thursday he wants to pay for his proposed southern border wall by slapping a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says Trump has discussed the idea with congressional leaders and wants to include the measure in a comprehensive tax reform package.

Spicer spoke to reporters on Air Force One as Trump flew back from a Republican retreat in Philadelphia. He says that taxing imports from Mexico would generate $10 billion a year and "easily pay for the wall."

Spicer says discussions are continuing with lawmakers to make sure the plan is "done right." But he says it "clearly provides funding" for the wall.

Trump is expected to wield his executive power again later this week with the directive to dam the refugee flow into the U.S. for at least four months, in addition to the open-ended pause on Syrian arrivals.

The president’s upcoming order is also expected to suspend issuing visas for people from several predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for at least 30 days, according to a draft executive order obtained by the Associated Press.

‘Sanctuary cities’ respond

Trump’s crackdown on sanctuary cities — locales that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities — could cost individual jurisdictions millions of dollars. Some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas — including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit — are considered sanctuary cities.

Trump signed an executive order that referred to withholding Justice Department and Homeland Security funds from only those jurisdictions that bar local officials from communicating with federal authorities about someone’s immigration status.

Peter L. Markowitz, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York, said such an attempt to cut off funding would face strong legal challenges.

“The Constitution prohibits the president from defunding jurisdictions that won’t do his bidding,” Markowitz said. “There’s nothing in federal law that requires localities or states to participate in federal immigration enforcement. Second, the Constitution grants Congress — not the president — the power to determine how federal dollars are spent.”

Protesters listen to an speaker as the hold signs during a rally against President Donald Trump's order cracking down on immigrants living in the U.S. at Washington Square Park in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

Some cities and advocates vowed legal action, arguing that the threatened punishment would be unconstitutional.

“This city will not be bullied by this administration,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said, adding that he instructed city departments to rework their budgets to prepare for the possibility that federal dollars could be lost. “We believe we have the rule of law and the courts on our side.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s chief of staff said the administration doesn’t believe the order applies to Detroit.

“We do cooperate fully with all federal agencies during the course of criminal investigations, regardless of a person’s immigration status,” Alexis Wiley said.

The Snyder administration “will review the order once we receive it and work with our counterparts in the Trump administration to understand its impact in Michigan,” Anna Heaton, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said Wednesday.

State Reps. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, and Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw, issued a statement against the executive orders.

“Law enforcement experts across the country have pointed out that sanctuary city policies can actually deter crime, as such policies make it more likely that undocumented immigrants will report crime and cooperate with law enforcement,” said Chang. “Building that trust is critical to helping our country move forward.

“In addition, I am very concerned that opening up the priorities for deportation may to have a devastating impact on residents of Southwest Detroit in my district.”

Other officials and advocates across Michigan also denounced the measures.

“These executive orders will not make our country safer, rather will produce more xenophobia in our society,” said Dawud Walid, Executive Director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter. “The denial of innocent humans including women and children who are refugees to find safe haven in America is antithetical to the stated values of our nation.”

Walid also noted the potential impact of a visa ban on Michigan’s sizable population with ties to Syria, Iraq and Yemen. “Syria and Yemen have two of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world going on at this present time. There is no plausible justification under the name of national security that children and orphans should be barred from coming into the United States of America.”

Officials at Dearborn-based American Arab Civil Rights League said they believe that “because these executive orders discriminate against a particular religion such orders would be unconstitutional, particularly since President Trump’s campaign rhetoric focused on religion as the target.”

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of faith-based, community and civil rights groups is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday at Michigan United in Detroit to oppose the moves.

“The orders from Trump fly in the face of religious freedom and the family as the bedrock of the community,” Michigan United officials said in statement. “Immigrant families and community leaders will speak out on how the orders would strike down religious liberty and endanger people here and abroad by threatening refugees and poisoning relations between immigrants and law enforcement.”

Who will pay?

Trump is unveiling his immigration plans at a time when detentions at the nation’s southern border are down significantly from levels seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The arrest tally last year was the fifth-lowest since 1972. Deportations of people living in the U.S. illegally also increased under President Barack Obama, though Republicans criticized him for setting prosecution guidelines that spared some groups from the threat of deportation, including those brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

As a candidate, Trump tapped into the immigration concerns of some Americans who worry both about a loss of economic opportunities and the threat of criminals and terrorists entering the country. His call for a border wall was among his most popular proposals with supporters, who often broke out in chants of “build that wall” during rallies.

How Trump plans to pay for the wall project is murky. While he has repeatedly promised that Mexico will foot the bill, U.S. taxpayers are expected to cover the initial costs and the new administration has said nothing about how it might compel Mexico to reimburse the money.

In an interview with ABC News earlier Wednesday, Trump said, “There will be a payment; it will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form.”

Brandon Dzul, 17, walks away from a monument marking Mexico's border with the United States in Tijuana, Mexico.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has insisted his country will not pay for a wall, has been expected to meet with Trump at the White House next week, although a senior official said Trump’s announcement had led him to reconsider the visit.

Congressional aides say there is about $100 million of unspent appropriations in the Department of Homeland Security account for border security, fencing and infrastructure. That would allow planning efforts to get started, but far more money would have to be appropriated for construction to begin.

Trump has insisted many times the border structure will be a wall. The order he signed referred to “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier.”

To build the wall, the president is relying on a 2006 law that authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile frontier. That bill led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians.

The president’s orders also call for hiring 5,000 additional border patrol agents and 10,000 more immigration officers, though the increases are subject to the approval of congressional funding.

The president also moved to restart the “Secure Communities” program, which was launched under President George W. Bush and initially touted as a way for immigration authorities to quickly identify people in the country illegally who had been arrested by local authorities.

The program helped the Obama administration deport a record high of more than 409,000 immigrants in 2012. But Obama eventually abandoned the program after it was decried as too often targeting immigrants charged with low-level crimes, including traffic violations.

Detroit News staff writer Mark Hicks contributed.