Prior to his inauguration, President Trump was adamant about his plans to reform U.S. immigration policies to speed up the deportation of non-citizens and secure barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. On January 25, 2017, during an appearance at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), President Trump signed two executive orders: one directing the construction of the border wall and to increase border patrol forces as well as the number of immigration enforcement officers in order to carry out deportations, and the second order to stop federal funding of “sanctuary cities,” and revive the Secure Communities (SCOMM) program. On January 27, 2017, during an appearance at the U.S. Department Department of Defense, President Trump issued another executive order that will temporarily bar people from from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the U.S., stop Syrian refugee admissions, suspend the general refugee admission program for about four months and lays out new vetting requirements.
Under President Trump’s proposal, the U.S. would begin construction of the wall in order to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants from entering the country illegally. The order instructs DHS Secretary John F. Kelly to identify and reserve department funds to construct the wall. It also states that the DHA funds need to be allocated “immediately” to build detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border. However, with the cost of building the wall estimated at almost $25 billion, President Trump will likely have to obtain additional funding from Congress to complete the project along the southern border. Under President Trump’s proposal, the U.S. would build the wall and the Mexican government would reimburse the U.S. for the costs of the border’s construction. The first order also called for the hiring of 5,000 more border patrol agents.
The second order calls for the hiring of 10,000 additional immigration officers and for federal officials to ensure that federal grant money would be withheld from “sanctuary cities” — jurisdictions that offer safe harbors for non-citizens who might otherwise be deported by federal immigration law enforcement officials.
Additionally, the second order ends the Obama administration’s Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) and reinstates the SCOMM. PEP, which was enacted in November 2014 under the Obama administration, has certain similarities to SCOMM. Both programs allow the fingerprints of arrested individuals to be checked against DHS databases. If a positive match is found, all law enforcement personnel at every level of government will be granted the power to notify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have that person detained.
However, PEP and SCOMM differ in a meaningful way. Under PEP, ICE officials do not ask a local law enforcement agency to hold a non-citizen in detention (via an immigration detainer) unless the undocumented immigrant had been convicted or was deemed a threat to national security. Additionally, ICE was required to specify which convictions or national security-based priority the non-citizen fell into.
Secure Communities was also not limited to convicted individuals. Those suspected of civil immigration law violations often ended up in immigration detainment and deportation proceedings. As compared to SCOMM, PEP created a slight limitation of individuals who fell within the DHS’s immigration enforcement priorities. Under PEP, the immigration detainers specified that local and state law enforcement personnel could only hold onto the non-citizen for 48 hours. Furthermore, under SCOMM, an exception is made for holidays and weekends, therefore increasing the amount of time undocumented immigrants can be detained by law enforcement personnel.
Critics of the SCOMM program have stated that, during the time the program was enacted, it had actually decreased security in American communities. The program is said to have created fear among residents, especially in immigrant communities, and discouraged them from openly sharing information with law enforcement officials. PEP advocates believe that community members are less likely to report information about crimes if it puts them or their loved ones at risk of being detained by ICE.
Just days after President Trump issued two other executive orders on immigration, the president signed an additional executive order that suspends the entry of individuals from seven Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen. While this plan does not specifically mention the religion of Islam, advocacy groups believe this measure solely targets Muslims.
Those who have nationality or dual nationality to one of the seven Middle Eastern countries will be barred from entering the U.S. for 90 days and will not be granted visas. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement January 29, 2017, clarifying that the entry of green card holders from these nations are “in the national interest.” Green card holders will be allowed to board planes to the U.S. and “will be assessed for exceptions” upon their arrival, as “appropriate.”
The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and lays out new vetting requirements. It calls specifically for a “uniform screening standard” that includes in-person interviews, updated application forms, a way to “evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society,” among other measures.
The order states that the U.S. is discouraged from admitting people who take part in acts of “bigotry and hatred,” or “those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.” It calls for an expedited completion of the biometric entry-exit tracking system and suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program. The suspension of that program waives the interview process for some immigrants who are seeking a renewed visa.
With immigration policies rapidly being reformed under President Trump, it is now more important than ever that non-citizens and their loved ones be aware of their rights and legal options. The New York immigration attorneys at Bretz & Coven, LLP have a long history of being passionate, knowledgeable, and honest in their work in providing non-citizens with legal services they can rely on. With two convenient offices located in the tri-state area — New York, New York and Metro Park, New Jersey — we are available to provide quality legal representation to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania residents on all immigration law matters. To schedule a consultation, call (212) 267-2555 or fill out our contact form.