New York Times
By Julie Hirschfield Davis and Maggie Haberman
January 24, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday will order the construction of a Mexican border wall — the first in a series of actions this week to crack down on immigrants, including slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States and blocking Syrians and others from “terror-prone” nations from entering, at least temporarily.
During an appearance at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, Mr. Trump plans to sign an executive order to direct federal funds to be shifted toward the building of a wall on the southern border, a signature promise of his campaign. He has argued that doing so is vital to gaining control over the illegal flow of immigrants into the United States.
“Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night. “Among many other things, we will build the wall!”
This executive order will be signed on the day that Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, arrives in Washington to prepare for the visit of President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, who is to meet with Mr. Trump at the end of the month. He will be among the first foreign leaders to meet the new president.
Mr. Trump is also expected to target legal immigrants as early as this week, White House officials said, by halting a decades-old program that grants refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people as he begins the process of drastically curtailing it.
He is considering a policy that would temporarily freeze admissions of refugees from Syria and other majority-Muslim nations, and halve the number of displaced people who can be resettled on American soil. This would effectively bar the entry of people from Muslim countries — including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria — and might prioritize the admission of those who are Christian religious minorities.
The plan is in line with a ban on Muslim immigrants that Mr. Trump proposed during his campaign, arguing that such a step was warranted given concerns about terrorism. He later said he wanted to impose “extreme vetting” of refugees from Syria and other countries where terrorism was rampant, although the Obama administration had already instituted strict screening procedures for Syrian refugees that were designed to weed out anyone who posed a danger.
White House officials described the actions on the condition of anonymity on Tuesday to avoid pre-empting the planned announcement. Mr. Trump is also considering slashing, to 50,000 from 110,000, the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, they said.
The expected actions drew strong criticism from immigrant advocates and human rights groups, which called them discriminatory moves that rejected the American tradition of welcoming immigrants of all backgrounds.
“To think that Trump’s first 100 days are going to be marked by this very shameful shutting of our doors to everybody who is seeking refuge in this country is very concerning,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Everything points to this being simply a backdoor Muslim ban.”
For Mr. Trump, whose raucous campaign rallies frequently featured chants of “build the wall,” the directive to fortify the border was not unexpected, although it may not be enough by itself to accomplish the task. Congress would need to approve any new funding necessary to build the wall, which Mr. Trump has insisted Mexico will finance, despite its leaders’ protestations to the contrary.
The Government Accountability Office has estimated that it could cost $6.5 million per mile to build a single-layer fence, and an additional $4.2 million per mile for roads and more fencing, according to congressional officials. Those estimates do not include maintenance of the fence along the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said she thought even Republicans might balk at spending what she said could be $14 billion on a wall.
Mr. Trump has said that immigration will be on the agenda when he meets with Mr. Peña Nieto.
The order to build the wall is likely to complicate the visit of Mr. Videgaray, who has a history with Mr. Trump. It was Mr. Videgaray, then Mexico’s finance minister, who orchestrated Mr. Trump’s visit to Mexico before the election, a move seen by many Mexicans as tantamount to treason. He was forced to resign because of the fallout, but his reputation was restored after Mr. Trump’s victory, and he was given the job of foreign minister, in part to capitalize on his relationship with the new American leader.
It is unclear whether Mexican officials were informed of Mr. Trump’s decision to sign the executive order during Mr. Videgaray’s visit.
Human rights groups whose leaders have been anticipating Mr. Trump’s refugee crackdown have already begun preparing legal efforts to halt them.
“We are definitely ready to stand in court and challenge any part of the executive order that flies in the face of our Constitution and our core values,” Ms. Hincapié said.
Mr. Trump’s directive is expected to target a program the Obama administration expanded last year in response to a global refugee crisis, fueled in large part by a large flow of Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war. Former President Barack Obama increased the overall number of refugees to be resettled in the United States to 85,000 and ordered that 10,000 of the slots be reserved for Syrians. He set the number of refugees to be resettled this year at 110,000, more than double the 50,000 Mr. Trump is now considering.
By the end of last month, more than 25,000 refugees had been resettled, according to State Department figures, meaning the plan Mr. Trump is considering would admit only 25,000 more by the end of September, when the fiscal year ends.
The refugee resettlement program, which has long drawn strong support from Republicans and Democrats, became the subject of bitter debate during the presidential campaign. The November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris stoked fears in the United States, and Mr. Trump claimed without evidence that “thousands upon thousands” of Muslim refugees with terrorist mind-sets had been “pouring into our country” without proper screening.
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