Commentary

Obama’s Open Borders Policy Undone: Trump Reverses Course

Hans von Spakovsky James Wallner
By Hans von Spakovsky and James Wallner | January 27, 2017 | 11:35 AM EST

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Moving swiftly to fulfill his campaign promise to get the nation’s illegal immigration problem under control, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders on Jan. 25 that constitute an almost complete reversal of the Obama administration’s nonenforcement and open borders policy.

From improving the physical barrier at our southern border to finally moving against sanctuary cities, these two executive orders put into effect a comprehensive program designed to secure our borders, implement interior enforcement, and reintegrate the assistance of state and local governments into federal efforts to enforce our immigration laws.

It has been a long time coming, but it seems to be finally happening: The federal government is actually enforcing our immigration laws.

As the first order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” correctly sets out in its preamble, “border security is critically important to the national security of the United States” and “aliens who illegally enter … without inspection or admission present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”

The president orders the Department of Homeland Security to immediately take the following steps:

  • Plan, design, and construct a physical wall, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border.
  • End the “catch and release” policy of the Obama administration, which Border Patrol agents sarcastically referred to as “catch and run” that flooded the country with illegal aliens, as well as dramatically increase the capacity of detention facilities to handle this change and the number of immigration judges needed to handle alien cases.
  • Return illegal aliens “to the territory from which they came pending a formal removal proceeding,” expedite determinations of apprehended aliens’ claims of eligibility to remain in the U.S., and make federal prosecutions of immigration offenses “with a nexus to the southern border” a priority.
  • Hire an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents.
  • Bring state and local law enforcement agencies back into immigration enforcement to get their assistance in the “investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens,” including through the 287(g) program, something the Obama administration did everything it could to end.
  • Stop the “abuse of parole and asylum provisions currently used to prevent the lawful removal of removable aliens” by doing what the Obama administration refused to do: Apply the plain language of the provisions in immigration law that set out strict standards for asylum and parole.
  • Authorize immigration agents and even state officials who are helping federal authorities to enter all federal lands in pursuit of illegal aliens—again something that the Obama Interior Department refused to allow in areas where national parks and other lands were along our borders.

The second, complementary order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” aims at enhancing interior enforcement of our immigration laws, particularly for “aliens who engage in criminal conduct in the United States.”

This order outlines that executive branch officials are directed to:

  • Put a priority on removing aliens who have committed criminal offenses; that includes not just violent criminals, but also aliens who engage in fraud in connection with the government or public benefits.
  • Hire an additional 10,000 immigration officers.
  • Enter into agreements with as many state and local governments as possible to aid the federal government in enforcing federal immigration laws.
  • Cut off funding from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to sanctuary cities, as well as take appropriate action in court against any such sanctuary cities whose policies violate federal immigration law.
  • Review all previous immigration actions and policies to rescind or revise any that are inconsistent with federal immigration law or this executive order.
  • Implement a comprehensive program to prosecute illegal aliens for criminal violations of the law.
  • Implement sanctions against all “recalcitrant” countries that refuse to take back their nationals who are deported from the U.S.
  • Establish an office within the Department of Homeland Security to help the victims of crimes committed by illegal aliens.

There is no question that all of these actions, taken together, will be a major step in getting our illegal alien population under control, securing our border, and deterring and reducing the huge influx of illegal aliens into the U.S. that was spurred by the Obama administration’s lax policies.

It would seem that the political will to enforce our immigration laws and take a tough line on the illegal aliens that have been flooding into the country for many years has finally appeared in Washington in the form of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.

It is about time.

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

James I. Wallner, Ph.D., is group vice president for research at The Heritage Foundation, overseeing all research papers, projects, and initiatives. Working on Capitol Hill for over a decade, he has written extensively on Congress, parliamentary procedure, the budget process, and political parties.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.