By Margaret Talev and Nafeesa Syeed
January 25, 2017
President Donald Trump acted on two of the most fundamental — and controversial — elements of his presidential campaign, building a wall on the border with Mexico and greatly tightening restrictions on who can enter the U.S.
Trump signed directives Wednesday to set in motion construction of border reinforcement and toughening immigration enforcement within the U.S. during an afternoon visit to the Department of Homeland Security. The federal agency has primary jurisdiction over the border and would enforce many of Trump’s immigration restrictions.
The Trump administration is also considering a 120-day suspension of refugee admissions and cutting the total number allowed into the U.S. in the current fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000, actions that could be announced as soon as Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plan.
In an interview with ABC News, Trump said that construction on the wall could begin “within months” and that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for the cost.
“Ultimately, it will come out with what’s happening with Mexico,” Trump said, according to part of an interview released on Wednesday. “We’re going to be starting those negotiations relatively soon.”
The Mexican peso, which has been among the worst performing major currencies since the U.S. election, reversed earlier losses after news of Trump’s plan emerged and was up 1 per cent at 1:49 p.m. in New York. The prospect of a large-scale construction project on the border that will drive up demand for cement, concrete and crushed stone had investors bidding up stocks of building-materials companies.
Trump’s central promise during his campaign — repeated at every rally, often in unison with his crowds — was to build an impenetrable wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep out people “taking our jobs.” He also promised to immediately round up and deport “criminal aliens.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration also would seek ways to ban federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal deportation efforts.
“The first order in that will be to build a large physical barrier on the southern border,” Spicer said Wednesday. “Federal agencies are going to unapologetically enforce the law — no ifs, ands or buts.”
Trump has repeatedly said he would force the Mexican government to pay for the wall, but may use existing appropriations for border security to start construction. Mexico’s government has rejected the notion that it will ever pay for the wall.
“I don’t think Mexico is going to appropriate dollars from their Congress to pay for this,” Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said at an event hosted by Bloomberg Government Wednesday morning.
Higher visa fees for citizens of Mexico and Central American countries could help offset the cost, he said. He pegged the price of the wall at $10 billion to $20 billion and said his committee would have to authorize the project.
Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs an appropriations subcommittee, said he expects Trump to submit a request for extra spending this year for both border security and the military.
The S&P 500 Materials Sector Index is up 11 per cent since the November election on bets that Trump would follow through on his promise. Among companies, Vulcan Materials Co., the biggest U.S. sand and gravel supplier by market value, advanced 2 percent to $134.98 at 9:36 a.m. in New York. Cement makers Martin Marietta Materials Inc. and Eagle Materials Inc. also rose, and Germany’s HeidelbergCement AG surged the most in two months.
Tougher immigration enforcement will focus on “people who pose a threat to people in our country, to criminals,” Spicer said Tuesday. The administration hasn’t so far acted to end an Obama-era program that has allowed more than 700,000 people brought to the country as children to obtain renewable two-year work permits.
The border wall — and who will pay for it — is already drawing the ire of Democrats.
“The bottom line here is this is another divisive policy and it’s another polarizing policy,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said in an interview with CNN Wednesday. “I think the American people are going to be able to see through this.”
On a conference call with reporters led by the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice, activists said Trump’s actions would ultimately harm the country.
“Donald Trump is wasting absolutely no time taking a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, which advocates for undocumented immigrants. “He’ll be walling our country off, both figuratively and literally.”
Trump’s tweet presaged what’s expected to be broader moves in the coming days to curb immigration that would include limits on government programs to settle refugees in the U.S.
During his campaign, Trump warned that the U.S. risked allowing extremists to slip into the country as part of the refugee program, pointing to terrorist attacks such as the killing of a French priest and a bombing at a German music festival, as evidence of the danger posed by refugees. He’s said Germany’s admission of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict was a “disaster.”
The U.S. admitted about 12,500 refugees from Syria in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to State Department figures. The U.S. took in almost 85,000 refugees from across the world that year, up from about 70,000 the year before, as Obama sought to respond to the Syrian crisis that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. No refugee from the Syrian civil war has been implicated in a terrorist attack within the U.S.
McCaul said in an interview that he expects Trump to sign an executive action to require stronger vetting of visa applications for people coming from the Middle East and North Africa, countries including Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Iran. He said it would be left up to Congress to draw up specifics on what the vetting would entail.
“The executive order isn’t going to get that much in detail,” he said.
Anne Richard, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration until Jan. 20, said that Trump’s incoming administration never responded to an offer of a briefing on the refugee program before he took office.
“It’s unusual for an administration to come in and without having anyone brief them just issue a blanket decision like this,” she said. “They have not been briefed on how the program works. They should inform themselves first and then take action.”
Trump once proposed a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the U.S.; after drawing bipartisan criticism, he subsequently proposed blocking immigration from countries with a “proven history” of terrorism. Other than Syria, he hadn’t specified what countries would meet that definition during his campaign.
“We’re letting people come in from terrorist nations that shouldn’t be allowed,” Trump said at a campaign rally in September. “This could be the great Trojan horse of all time.”
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. focused its refugee admissions on individuals with existing links to America, as well as women and children facing persecution or in desperate need of medical care. The screening process averages 12 to 18 months and includes biometric data and reviews by multiple law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com