Trump Signs Order to Defund Immigrant 'Sanctuary Cities'

by | January 25, 2017 AT 8:00 PM

By Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman

President Donald Trump directed federal workers Wednesday to start building a border wall and begin punishing so-called sanctuary cities and is considering dramatically limiting the flow of people from other countries, including a ban on Syrian refugees, in a flurry of steps that could fundamentally reshape how the U.S. deals with immigration, security and the war on terrorism.

Trump signed two executive orders designed to begin building the wall, add lockups for detaining immigrants who cross the border illegally, enhance enforcement power for border agents and strip federal funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement.

"Reform of our immigration system has been at the top of President Trump's priorities since he announced his candidacy," spokesman Sean Spicer said early Wednesday afternoon. "We'll enforce the rule of law and restore value to the American citizenship."

Trump said construction would begin as soon as possible and that the U.S. would pay for it, to be eventually reimbursed by Mexico, which has said it will not pay.

"There will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form," Trump said in an interview with ABC News.

He did not detail how he would force Mexico to pay for the wall, though during the campaign he proposed ending remittances sent home by Mexicans in the U.S., which make up a large part of the Mexico's economy, to pressure it to negotiate.

Trump is mulling a range of additional activity. It includes stopping admission of Syrian refugees and severe restrictions on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. Additionally, he is considering a reversal of President Barack Obama's efforts to shutter the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the reintroduction of torture techniques and secret overseas prisons designed to strip protections for terrorism suspects.

All of those options fit Trump's broad campaign promises to crack down on people entering the country illegally, with an emphasis on those who he believes might harm Americans. Trump argued repeatedly during the campaign that the U.S. had become too "politically correct" to effectively defend itself.

Trump administration officials were still deciding on the exact timing for announcing the rest of the new policies.

The batch of actions Trump is contemplating amount to a clear repudiation of Obama's view, as well as that of many in the international community, that the U.S. abandoned some of its commitment to human rights in the early years of the war on terrorism and doing so helped terrorist groups recruit and win favor. Some of that thinking had begun to take shape in the Bush administration, which initiated the policy of moving detainees out of Guantanamo Bay and often underscored that the fight against terrorism was not religious-based.

Obama pointed to a lack of Sept. 11-style terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during his administration as evidence that his approach worked. Yet Trump won the election in part because many Americans continue to feel vulnerable.

But it all begins with the wall. Trump built his campaign largely on a call for stricter immigration enforcement, his central promise a vow to build the wall on the border with Mexico. Though it evoked cheers from his supporters at campaign rallies, his divisive rhetoric stoked fears among immigrants.

Trump previewed his executive action Tuesday night, tweeting : "Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!"

The first order signed by Trump directs the agency to begin building the wall, but still requires Congress to approve the estimated billions of dollars in funding to construct the 2,000-mile-long barrier. In the meantime, the Homeland Security budget includes about $175 million set aside for upgrading Border Patrol buildings and adding new equipment, which along with other funds could be diverted quickly to start construction.

Details from one version of the directive reviewed by the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau would include a requirement that the agency publicly detail aid it is giving to Mexico _ highlighting Trump's pledge to force that country to pay for the wall. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is scheduled to visit the White House next week to discuss trade, another Trump priority.

The memo also includes language allowing federal law enforcement to access federal land for border security, a possible attempt to head off environmental lawsuits that could hold up construction. It would also prioritize border prosecutions and referrals to the Department of Justice.

The second action withholds funds to punish sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials. It includes directions for aggressive interior immigration enforcement and an advocacy office for victims of crimes committed by those in the country illegally. Relatives of those victims were often onstage with Trump during campaign rallies.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close ally of the new administration, telegraphed the sanctuary cities announcement during a speech Wednesday to the conservative Heritage Foundation. He called it a "common-sense" action that would "drive the left crazy."

Beyond those actions, Trump is also looking at new restrictions on refugees and visitors, to follow through on his campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the country for a period of time. That pledge has been one of Trump's most polarizing, drawing criticism from leaders in his own party, along with Democrats and security experts, but approval from many of his supporters.

One memo he is reviewing would block all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and restrict admissions and some visa applicants for people from countries where the U.S. has counterterrorism concerns, not only Syria but also Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

The draft order temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program while new vetting procedures are put in place and officials decide whether refugees from some countries should be blocked permanently from admission. This step would likely arouse an international outcry, given the historic role that the U.S. and other industrialized nations have long held in taking in victims of war and oppression.

The draft orders the U.S. stop admitting refugees from Syria indefinitely until a review of security screening is complete. Trump also instructed the secretaries of state and defense to come up with a plan to create "safe areas" in Syria and nearby countries where Syrians could wait for resettlement. That could open the U.S. military to deeper engagement in the Middle East.

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security would review how visas are issued and whether some countries should be required to provide more information before their citizens are allowed entry to the U.S., according to the draft order. The results of that review could allow Trump to block or slow visa issuance to countries with large Muslim populations or with terrorism concerns, a de facto ban on Muslims.

The order goes beyond the Muslim world, however, creating new restrictions on visitors from some of America's closest allies. It would suspend the visa waiver program _ widely used by citizens from 38 countries, including most European countries, Australia, Japan and Chile _ which grants citizens of those countries a 90-day tourist visa after they submit their biographical information to a screening check. The new policy would require in-person interviews for most citizens from those countries.

Trump is also considering lifting restrictions on harsh interrogations and renewing the use of secret overseas sites to hold terrorism suspects, both widely seen as dark chapters of the post-9/11 era, as he looks to follow through on his campaign promise to ramp up targeting of Islamic militants.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would bring back waterboarding and other harsh tactics that were part of the so-called enhanced interrogation program, which was installed after the Sept. 11 attacks and widely considered a stain on the CIA's record. A Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2014 concluded that the torture methods diminished U.S. standing in the world and failed to produce significant intelligence.

Aides have prepared executive actions to lift bans on both, according to a draft document being circulated. Spicer denied that it was a White House document.

Trump is expected to ask national security officials to review what interrogation methods are allowed under the Army Field Manual. Techniques that go beyond what the manual allows were outlawed by Congress in 2014.

He could also order the CIA to consider bringing back the use of so-called black sites for secretly holding terrorism suspects, a practice Obama banned in 2009, as well as sending detainees to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Trump's CIA director, Mike Pompeo, repeatedly told senators at his confirmation hearing that he would not restart the CIA's use of secret prisons and would refuse any orders from the White House to torture suspects. The CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command are expected to play a major role in increasing attacks on Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, a priority for Trump. During his inaugural address, Trump promised to "eradicate from the face of the Earth" Islamic terrorist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida.

(Times staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.)

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