Immigration Public Policies

Watchdog Vigilance Home Page

The content of this web page is arranged under the following headings:
1. Immigrants
2. Refugees 
3. Deportations
4. "Sanctuary City" Communities
5.. Mexico Border Security

1. Immigrants

Visas are temporary permits to enter the U.S. The U.S. State Department issued 617,752 immigrant visas and 10,891,745 non-immigrant (tourist and worker) visas in 2016. Immigrant visas were issued in 2016 to 7,727 persons from Iran; 3,660 from Iraq; 383 from Libya; 1,797 from Somalia; 2,606 from Sudan; 2,633 from Syria; and 12,998 from Yemen. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 29 and February 4, 2017.)

The Immigration and Nationality Acts of 1952 and 1965 allow a president to block would-be immigrants if they are deemed "detrimental to the interests of the United States" and to "impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate." The Acts also forbid discrimination  against immigrants based on their "nationality, place of birth, or place of residence." U.S. Justice Department lawyers list eight instances dating back to President Reagan in 1986 when presidents blocked residents of certain nations  - such as Cuba, Libya, Russia, Somalia, and Yemen - from being granted admission to the United States. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016, January 29, 2017, and February 7, 2017)

A ban on all immigrants from all Muslim countries would likely face lawsuits from groups claiming it violates First Amendment protections for freedom of religion. However, a ban based on terrorism grounds and not on religious grounds would likely hold up in court. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.)

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed a presidential directive that ordered the U.S. State Department to (a) bar all legal immigrants for three months from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and (b) develop "extreme vetting" for immigrants from countries that support terrorism. Iran, Sudan, and Syria comprise the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism - and Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen are designated "terrorist safe havens" by the U.S. State Department. U.S. Justice Department lawyer Erez Reuveni reported that no legal permanent residents, or green-card holders, have been denied entry to the United States. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 28, January 29, January 30, and February 4, 2017.)

U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart sitting in Seattle, Washington, issued a temporary nationwide restraining order on February 3, 2017, blocking the travel ban. In issuing his decision, Judge Robart sided with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson who argued the presidential directive is causing significant harm to residents and effectively mandates discrimination. Following Judge Robart's ruling, the U.S. State Department reported it was restoring tens of thousands of canceled visas for foreigners while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "suspended all actions" for enforcing the ban and instead reverted to normal visa and refugee policies including standard inspection of travelers. In a short notice of appeal filed February 4, 2017, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formally notified the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco of their intention to ask the Circuit Court to overturn the injunction halting the travel ban. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 4 and 5, 2017.)

On February 9, 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco unanimously denied an emergency motion to stay the nationwide temporary restraining order issued February 3, 2017, by U.S. District Senior Judge James Robert sitting in Seattle. The temporary restraining order blocked the January 27, 2017, presidential directive that temporarily banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations. The Appeals Court verdict at https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/02/09/17-35105.pdf cites legal precedent establishing that the procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens, but apply to all persons within the United States – including aliens regardless of whether they are attempting to reenter the United States after travelling abroad or their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent. The verdict quotes a 75-year-old Supreme Court precedent that said courts have a duty "in time of war as well as in time or peace, to preserve unimpaired the constitutional safeguards of civil liberty." The judges found that the plaintiffs in the case – the states of Washington and Minnesota – showed that the ban may have violated the due process rights of foreigners who had valid visas and green cards, as well as those in the country illegally. The panel said the president should get "considerable deference" in the areas of immigration and national security, but "it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action." The judges also said "serious allegations" about religious discrimination against Muslims raised "significant constitutional questions" requiring a full airing in a trial court. In addition, it was held that "the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury" from a national security standpoint. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 10, 2017.)

2. Refugees

Refugees are a special class of immigrants who seek asylum from war, persecution, and other risks to their safety. They have protected status under international law. Most of the 85,000 refugees admitted to the United States in 2016 came from countries that are at war or under the control of repressive governments. The U.S. State Department reports that the vast majority of the 12,587 Syrian refugees admitted in 2016 are women and children, and only 2% are single young men who are most likely to commit terrorist acts. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 29, 2017.)

A president has very broad and unilateral discretion to determine which refugees are admitted into the country. The number of any refugees accepted by the U.S. each year is set exclusively by the president. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.)

According to a recent Cato Institute report, out of more than 3 million refugees admitted to the USA from 1975 to 2015, three committed terrorist acts that killed Americans. They were Cuban refugees in the 1970s. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 10, 2017.)

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed a presidential directive that ordered the U.S. State Department to suspend the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days and refugees from Syria indefinitely. The presidential directive declares that once the refugee program is reinstated, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must prioritize refugee claims made by persecuted religious minorities. President Trump stated on January 27, 2017, that he wants to prioritize the immigration of persecuted Christians over Muslims. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 28, January 29, January 30, and February 4, 2017.)

U.S. District Senior Judge James Robart sitting in Seattle, Washington, issued a temporary nationwide restraining order on February 3, 2017, blocking the travel ban. In issuing his decision, Judge Robart sided with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson who argued the presidential directive is causing significant harm to residents and effectively mandates discrimination. Following Judge Robart's ruling, the U.S. State Department reported it was restoring tens of thousands of canceled visas for foreigners while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "suspended all actions" for enforcing the ban and instead reverted to normal visa and refugee policies including standard inspection of travelers. In a short notice of appeal filed February 4, 2017, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formally notified the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco of their intention to ask the Circuit Court to overturn the injunction halting the travel ban. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 4 and 5, 2017.)

On February 9, 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco unanimously denied an emergency motion to stay the nationwide temporary restraining order issued February 3, 2017, by U.S. District Senior Judge James Robert sitting in Seattle. The temporary restraining order blocked the January 27, 2017, presidential directive that temporarily banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations. The Appeals Court verdict at https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/02/09/17-35105.pdf cites legal precedent establishing that the procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens, but apply to all persons within the United States – including aliens regardless of whether they are attempting to reenter the United States after travelling abroad or their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent. The verdict quotes a 75-year-old Supreme Court precedent that said courts have a duty "in time of war as well as in time or peace, to preserve unimpaired the constitutional safeguards of civil liberty." The judges found that the plaintiffs in the case – the states of Washington and Minnesota – showed that the ban may have violated the due process rights of foreigners who had valid visas and green cards, as well as those in the country illegally. The panel said the president should get "considerable deference" in the areas of immigration and national security, but "it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action." The judges also said "serious allegations" about religious discrimination against Muslims raised "significant constitutional questions" requiring a full airing in a trial court. In addition, it was held that "the Government has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal, nor has it shown that failure to enter a stay would cause irreparable injury" from a national security standpoint. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 10, 2017.)

3. Deportations

A president can direct the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to increase deportations. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.)

A president would need congressional approval to hire more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to round up immigrants in the interior of the country. However, a president does not need any new money to change the focus of the immigration agents who are already in place. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.) 

The 287(g) program, which was created by Congress in 1996, allows the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to train local police officers and sheriffs deputies to locate and catch undocumented immigrants living in their communities. By 2010, local officers in 24 states were trained and empowered by ICE to respond to crime scenes, make traffic stops and check local jails to determine the immigrations status of suspects - local officers now work only in local jails, not on the streets. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 25, 2016.) 

The U.S. Justice Department's State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) distributed $165 million in 2015 to local law enforcement agencies that detained undocumented immigrants. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 14, 2017.) 

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in 2014 that local  police departments are not required to hold undocumented immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 14, 2017.) 

The U.S. Justice Department ruled the summer of 2016 that local law enforcement agencies are required by federal law to at least share immigration information. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 14, 2017.) 

A president is empowered to  direct the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to revoke the deportation protections created under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program where 840,000 young undocumented immigrants are protected from deportation for two-year periods and granted work permits. However, Homeland Security must provide written notice that it plans to revoke work permits and recipients have 15 days to respond (but do not have a right to a court hearing to fight the revocation). On February 21, 2017, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a memorandum stating that deportation protections granted by President Obama in 2012 under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children will continue to be honored so long as those immigrants abide by the rules of the Program. (Sources: Article in the The Indianapolis Star on February 22, 2017, and articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016, and February 22, 2017.) 

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that made clear that just about any immigrant living in the United States illegally could be a priority for deportation, particularly those with outstanding deportation orders. The executive order also said enforcement priorities would include convicted criminals, immigrants who had been arrested for any criminal offense, those who committed fraud, and anyone who might have committed a crime. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 12, 2017.) 

On February 21, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly issued two memoranda to the DHS workforce regarding border security and enforcement of immigration laws: see https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/17_0220_S1_Implementing-the-Presidents-Border-Security-Immigration-Enforcement-Improvement-Policies.pdf and https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/17_0220_S1_Enforcement-of-the-Immigration-Laws-to-Serve-the-National-Interest.pdf. There are a total of 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the United States - 8 million are in the labor force, 66% have lived in the United States for at least a decade, 56% live in 6 states (California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois), 52% are originally from Mexico, and 240,255 were deported in 2016. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that about 820,000 illegal immigrants living in the country have criminal convictions. Research cited by the Cato Institute and the American Immigration Council indicates that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. (Sources: Articles in The Indianapolis Star and the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 22, 2017.) 

Before they can be deported to their home country, immigrants have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge because the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that undocumented immigrants are entitled to due process. This has led to a huge backlog of 521,676 cases waiting nearly two years on average to be heard, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The only way to speed up those cases is to hire more immigration judges. There are currently 273 immigration judges according to the U.S. Justice Department. Congress has approved funding to increase the number of immigration judges to 374. Yet, even if President Trump filled all 374 immigration judge posts and the U.S. Congress added 150 more over the next two years, they could not clear out all the currently pending immigration cases until 2023, according to review by the non-profit advocacy group Human Rights First. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 20, 2016, and February 25, 2017.) 

The U.S. Congress created "expedited removals" in 1996 that allows federal agents to quickly deport suspected undocumented immigrants without appearing before an immigration judge. The program allows a federal agent to interview each subject to determine whether he or she should be deported. The agent reviews any documents the person has to establish how long he or she has been in the United States. If undocumented immigrants claim fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country, the agent is supposed to turn them over to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to determine if they have a "credible fear" and should be allowed to apply for political asylum. The law allows for removal of undocumented immigrants who entered the country within the previous two years. But the Clinton administration limited its use to people caught at ports of entry who had arrived in the previous 14 days. The Bush administration expanded that to people caught within 100 miles of the U;S-Mexican border within two weeks of entry, and President Obama maintained that guideline. Now, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has ordered an expansion of the program to apply nationwide and for anyone who entered the country within the previous two years. The Pew Research Center estimates that 1.5 million undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. for fewer than five years, but it does not have data on those here less than two years. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 25, 2017.) 

On February 21, 2017, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly issued a memorandum to the DHS workforce that requires undocumented people caught entering the country to be detained until their cases are resolved, ending the "catch and release" program in which unducumented immigrants were processed by immigration agents, released into the USA, and ordered to reappear for court hearings. This new directive calls for construction of more jails along the southwest border to accommodate the additional detainees. On February 23, 2017, the U.S. Justice Department rescinded an Obama administration order to phase out the use of private prison contracts in the federal Bureau of Prisons. About 65% of Homeland Security detainees in 2016 were held in privately run facilities. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 24, 2017.)

5. "Sanctuary City" Communities

Three hundred "sanctuary city" communities have a range of policies protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation. The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Homeland Security Department provide hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for local law enforcement agencies to hire officers; bolster prosecutions, courts and jails; provide drug treatment; prepare for terrorist attacks; and assist crime victims and witnesses. The U.S. President has the power to cut off much this grant funding to sanctuary cities. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 14, 2017.)

The U.S. Justice Department is able to sue sanctuary cities on the grounds that they violate federal law by refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 14, 2017.) 

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order declaring that federal money would be withheld from cities and counties that do not turn over undocumented immigrants held in their jails. The executive order contains a provision that could allow federal funding to continue to flow to police, pending approval by the U.S. Attorney General. Deportation priorities include immigrants (a) convicted of serious crimes, (b) suspected but not charged in a crime, (c) who have "abused" any benefit programs, and (d) who "otherwise pose a risk to public safety." If a country will not take back aliens deported from the United States, the U.S. Sate Department is required to stop issuing visas for citizens of that country. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 26, 2017, and January 27, 2017.) 

The Major Cities Chiefs Association, a coalition of top police officials representing the largest agencies in the country, issued a 2013 policy paper warning that local police officers lacked basic resources, training, and "clear authority" to assist in immigration enforcement. "Immigration laws are very complex, and the training required to understand them significantly detracts  from the core mission of local police to create safe communities." (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 27, 2017.) 

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said police should not be substitutes for everyday immigration agents enforcing status disputes and other minor civil violations. "Local police ned to have the community's confidence and know they can be free to report problems without consequences. If people are afraid to come to the police, that domestic violence incident today will be a homicide tomorrow, and that's in no one's interest." (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on January 27, 2017.) 

5. Mexico Border Security

A president would need congressional approval to hire more Border Patrol agents to monitor the Mexico border. However, a president does not need any new money to change the focus of the immigration agents who are already in place. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.) 

Extending the 650 miles of wall or fencing that currently exist would require congressional approval because of the billions of dollars that the project would cost. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016.) 

On February 7, 2017, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that it would not be possible to extend a wall along the entire 1,900-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border quickly and that he would focus on erecting sections of see-through fencing backed up with technology in areas where Customs and Border Protection officials say it is needed most. Secretary Kelly said it's hard to say how long a wall or walls will take to build because it depends on funding. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they expect the Trump administration to ask Congress to approve an emergency funding request of $12 billion to $15 billion to pay for the wall. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 8 and 12, 2017.) 

Building a wall or other barrier along the entire U.S.-Mexico border would cost about $21.6 billion and take up to 3.5 years to complete, according to an internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security document. The document, first reported by Reuters, lays out a three-phase plan about where construction could begin along the 1,250 miles of border without physical barriers, and it details challenges to constructing a wall. But the document also leaves questions unanswered, namely what the wall would look like. The $21.6 billion cost estimate in the document is due in large part to the ballooning costs of acquiring private land, including through eminent domain. Large sections of the border, particularly in Texas, are privately owned. According to the internal document, the first phase of construction would begin in September 2017, covering some 26 miles overall in San Diego, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. The Arizona border and additional parts of Texas (in the Laredo and the Big Bend area) are included in the second phase covering 151 miles. The final phase would cover the remaining sections. In all, construction would take up to 3.5 years. Despite repeated assurances that Mexico would pay for the wall, the document assumes Congress would allocate funds later this year for the project. (Source: Article in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on February 12, 2017.) 

President Trump insists that Mexico will reimburse U.S. taxpayers for the cost, but Mexico has vowed that it will not pay for the barrier. Congress may need to create a legal mechanism to withhold remittances that Mexicans in the U.S. send back to their families in Mexico, a revenue stream that could help pay for construction of a border wall. (Sources: Articles in the USA Today section of The Indianapolis Star on November 14, 2016, and February 8, 2017.) 

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This page was last updated on 02/25/17.