President Donald Trump on Wednesday quickly followed up on his signature campaign promises and signed two executive orders for building a new wall on the Southwest border, hiring 10,000 additional immigration enforcement officials and stripping federal funding from municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with deportation officers.
One of the orders also calls for empowering more state and local authorities to help enforce federal immigration laws, and it restores a controversial program called “Secure Communities,” which uses fingerprints to identify unauthorized immigrants held in local jails. Further, the president ordered the State Department to push harder against countries that refuse to accept the repatriation of their citizens when they have been ordered deported from the United States.
“A nation without borders is not a nation,” Trump said after attending a swearing-in ceremony for U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. “Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders.”
Trump campaigned heavily on building a “big, beautiful wall” at Mexico’s expense, even leading his supporters in a “Build that wall!” chant. Mexico has repeatedly said it won’t pay for Trump’s signature campaign promise. The Government Accountability Office has estimated it could cost $6.5 million per mile to build a single-layer fence on the border plus $4.2 million per mile for roads and more fencing, The New York Times reported, citing congressional officials.
Trump’s order directs his administration to come up with a plan to pay for the wall through “congressional budget requests for the current and upcoming fiscal years.” He also asked for 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, “subject to available appropriations.”
Building additional barriers along the U.S.-Mexican border will help stop illegal immigration, but authorities must also sanction employers who hire unauthorized workers, said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents Border Patrol agents.
“All the technology and infrastructure in the world is great, but if we don’t have good policies there is still going to be a demand here,” Moran said. “We have said for a very long time that employer sanctions would go a long way toward helping get rid of this problem.”
Moran also raised the possibility that any new barriers could cause unintended consequences by “pushing the traffic into another section, another station’s area, kind of like we did where you lock down San Diego and the next thing you know El Centro and Yuma are being overrun.”
“We are always being reactive,” he said. “So I think we need to be a little more proactive and be ahead of the curve when we do something like this.”
One of Trump’s orders is aimed at cutting off federal funding to municipalities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” Georgia law prohibits local governments from going the same route, or adopting rules that would stop them from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The state was home to an estimated 375,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center report.
As Trump was being sworn into office this month, Azadeh Shahshahani was helping to lead hundreds of activists in a march to City Hall, where they called on Atlanta to declare itself a sanctuary city, a move that could protect many unauthorized immigrants.
“As we encounter the torrent of xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia from the federal level epitomized by the recent announcements, we will work toward making our city into a sanctuary space where all of our communities will be afforded their human dignity,” said Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for an immigrant rights advocacy group called Project South.
The Trump administration is also planning to revive the Secure Communities program, which works by comparing detainees’ fingerprints against immigration records in federal databases. Supporters say the program — started during the George W. Bush administration — substantially curbed illegal immigration. Critics say it ensnared low-level offenders with families and deep roots in the U.S. The Obama administration canceled it, citing many of the concerns surrounding it.
Meanwhile, Trump is preparing to sign other executive orders this week to stem the flow of refugees to the United States, according to multiple news reports.
One order would halt the resettlement of refugees in the U.S. for four months, giving his administration time to bolster the security screening process for newcomers. The moratorium would not apply to religious minorities escaping persecution. A separate order would block the issuance of visas to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Trump initially proposed barring all Muslims from entering the U.S., citing security concerns. But he later shifted his focus on restricting access from “terror prone” countries. In the federal fiscal year that ended in September 2016, 3,017 refugees were resettled in Georgia, mostly from Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Syria.
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Trump has the legal authority to take these steps, said Stephen Legomsky, an emeritus law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the former chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Congress has delegated to the president a very broad discretion to decide how many overseas refugees the U.S. will admit in any given year and from where,” said Legomsky, who nevertheless called Trump’s plan a “terrible idea.”
“The U.S. has been a refuge for people fleeing persecution for the entire history of our country,” he said. “And right now the worldwide refugee crisis has reached epidemic levels in terms of numbers. Almost every other Western democracy has opened its arms to large numbers of refugees, including Syrian refugees. And the U.S., of course, being as economically powerful as we are and being as large as we are, is certainly in a position to absorb far more than most other countries.”
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Dr. Heval Mohamed Kelli of Snellville came to the United States as a refugee in 2001 — two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when he was 18, fleeing persecution in Syria. His Kurdish family, he said, fled their native country after suffering oppression from the Syrian government.
Kelli graduated from Clarkston High School, attended Georgia State University as an undergrad, studied medicine at Morehouse, and then became a cardiology fellow at Emory University. Kelli underscored how many refugees thrive in school and create businesses in Georgia.
“What we are doing is looking at refugees as a burden,” Kelli said of Trump’s plans. “It is totally the opposite. Refugees are investors in our country.”
Atlanta area refugee resettlement agencies are now bracing for Trump’s orders. Among other things, they are worrying about how the changes could affect federal funding for their employees, who work directly with refugees.
“The world is facing the worst refugee crisis in history,” said Paedia Mixon, CEO of New American Pathways, a refugee resettlement organization. “We have all seen the images of extreme human suffering as millions have fled with nothing but the hope of refuge somewhere safe and free from discrimination. As America, the strongest nation in the world, turns its back, we are eliminating that hope for a population that has few other options.”
Staff writers Greg Bluestein and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.