Some conservatives were reportedly irritated that, by the end of his fifth day in office, President Trump had yet to take action to combat illegal immigration and radical Islam. He’s expected to make up for it in the coming days with executive orders that would kick off the construction of a southern border wall, punish sanctuary cities, and temporarily ban most refugees, as well as immigrants from seven Middle Eastern and African nations. The New York Times reports that Trump is also mulling over orders that would resume the CIA’s “black site” detention program and “enhance interrogation techniques.”
Trump is expected to sign the first orders during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. He teased the event on Twitter:
The executive actions on refugees and immigration from “terror-prone” nations are expected on Thursday. Several sources told the Washington Post that Trump’s intention is to show that he’s fulfilling campaign promises ahead of his appearance at the GOP retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Here’s what we know about the policies Trump is expected to enact this week.
Temporarily Banning Refugees
A Trump administration official told the Post that restrictions on the refugee program had yet to be finalized. One option under discussion is to suspend the admission of all refugees for four months; that would give officials time to determine which nations pose the greatest risk, and implement more aggressive vetting procedures. The AP reported that there would probably be an exception for religious minorities fleeing persecution, which would allow Christians fleeing Muslim-majority nations into the U.S. The admission of Syrian refugees could be suspended indefinitely.
The president has the power to halt refugee processing and limit how many refugees can enter the country, and President George W. Bush stopped refugee processing for several months after 9/11. A person familiar with the plan told The Wall Street Journal that when admissions resume, the annual cap would be set at 50,000. (President Obama set the number of refugees to be resettled this fiscal year at 110,000.) By the end of December 2016, 25,000 refugees had been resettled — so if Trump implements this plan, only another 25,000 would be admitted by the end of September.
“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” Stephen Legomsky, the Obama administration’s chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told Reuters. “But from a policy standpoint, it would be a terrible idea because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.”
During the campaign, Trump said the U.S. would create “safe zones” in Syria so refugees wouldn’t need to come to the U.S. The Journal reports that that is expected to be part of Trump’s package, though it’s a difficult task that would likely require the use of U.S. ground troops and air power.
At one point during the campaign, Trump proposed temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the United States, but later he walked that back, saying there would be no visas for people from nations “where adequate screening cannot occur.”
Trump is said to be considering a temporary ban on issuing visas to people from several Muslim-majority nations — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — until new procedures are implemented. (As the Post notes, people from those nations are rarely granted visas as it is.) White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that changes to the vetting process would be worked out after Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state, is in place. Trump has not given specifics on what “extreme vetting” would entail, but the Journal reports that the new process is expected to ban “anyone who has persecuted people of other religions or engaged in so-called honor killing, violence against women, or oppressed a member of one race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
In addition to telling the State Department to stop issuing visas to people from particular countries, Trump could even instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection not to admit people from those countries who already have visas. Such actions would likely provoke legal challenges, particularly if the only people targeted are from Muslim nations.
Building the Border Wall
Earlier this month, it was reported that congressional Republicans believed the president already had the authority to build a southern border wall under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and they’re hoping to put funding for the project in a spending bill that must pass by April 28. Trump said that while U.S. taxpayers would initially fund the project — which estimates say could cost as much as $20 billion — Mexico would eventually reimburse them.
It looks like Trump may be able to get started even sooner. A source told the Journal that congressional leaders pointed out tens of millions of dollars in unspent allocations, which Trump intends to put toward getting started on the wall immediately. The source of the funding is unclear.
Building the wall would still be logistically and legally difficult, particularly because Mexico insists it will not pay for it. Some Mexicans are angry that the announcement is expected on Wednesday, the same day top Mexican officials are set to meet with senior Trump advisers to discuss immigration and economic issues. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is scheduled to meet with Trump next week.
Trump is also expected to increase the number of border patrol agents by 5,000 and issue an order punishing cities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration agencies.
It appears that, for now, those shielded by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will not be targeted. “[Trump’s] priority is first and foremost focused on people who pose a threat to people in our country — to criminals, frankly,” Press Secretary Spicer said Tuesday. “And that’s where he wants ICE [the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] to focus their efforts.”
Rules on Torture and Detentions
The Times reports that Trump is also considering whether to issue orders that would affect Guantánamo Bay and the CIA’s secret overseas detention centers. One draft would review “whether to reinstate the program of interrogation of high-value alien terrorists to be operated outside the United States, and whether such a program should include the use of detention facilities operated by the C.I.A.” The document also states that no one in U.S. custody would be subjected to torture, as defined by U.S. or international law.
Another order under consideration would launch a review of the Army Field Manuals to determine whether enhanced interrogation techniques should be allowed. New CIA director Mike Pompeo has said he’s open to allowing waterboarding, and he told the Senate he would consider revising the Army Field Manuals if experts found “enhanced interrogation techniques” are an “impediment” to gathering important intelligence.