1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

President Trump’s Immigration Orders: 3 Things Congress Can Do

By Hannah Graf Evans, February 3, 2017

The Executive branch can carry out much of what President Trump laid out in his January 25 Executive Orders, but there are also ways that Congress can weigh in.

Below are concrete steps that Congress can take in response to these orders which broadly expanded the jurisdiction and direction for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to carry out deportations, detain migrants indefinitely, and further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

Withhold funding for the border wall and new enforcement personnel

One of President Trump’s orders directs DHS to immediately begin constructing a wall along the U.S. southern border. It also directs DHS to increase the number of Customs and Border Patrol Agents by 5,000 with existing resources. Another order instructs the Secretary of the DHS to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers carrying out deportations.

The President has the authority to move certain money around within the administration; however DHS resources are not limitless. Congress has to take action to fund these executive orders in full. The cost of the wall is estimated to be between $15 and $25 billion dollars. According to estimates from Politico, the additional hires of border patrol agents and ICE agents would add around $4 billion to the DHS budget each year.

Congress governs on behalf of the American people and the diverse constituencies within each congressional district. Overall, there is low public support for the wall. Border communities, including the Tohono O’odham tribe, have already expressed opposition to this increased militarization and dividing barriers.

Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX-23) – who represents 750 miles of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the largest span of any district – reiterated that a wall the most expensive and least effective way to secure the southwest border. He was just one of many elected officials in the border region who expressed concern about the order released by the White House.

Members of Congress should refuse to spend taxpayer dollars on a project that is fulfilling an unrealistic campaign promise and ignores the wishes from communities along the border. Congress should reject a special funding bill, oppose tax increases on Mexican imports, and otherwise block funding that would go towards barrier construction and increased immigration enforcement personnel.

Demonstrate support for undocumented immigrants by co-sponsoring and passing protective legislation

President Trump’s executive orders have terrorized the undocumented community – and those who care for them – by promising widespread, indiscriminate immigration enforcement. Our immigration laws are already unjust, subjecting individuals to automatic detention and deportation without allowing them a meaningful chance to defend their right to stay before an immigration judge. This order eliminates previous discretion in enforcement, and effectively makes every undocumented immigrant or lawfully residing immigrant with any level of contact with the criminal justice system a priority for deportation. It mandates detention for all individuals who have violated immigration laws.

This, combined with further direction that police share information with federal authorities, means that communities across the nation will be further subjected to racial profiling in the name of immigration enforcement, fear reporting to the police when they are victim to crime, and more immigrants will be at risk of unjust detention and deportation with very little opportunity for legal recourse.

Furthermore, a leaked draft from the White House indicates that President Trump’s team has concrete plans for how they could revoke the temporary status of undocumented young adults who are lawfully living and working in the U.S. under a program put in place in 2012. Dreamers have spent most of their lives in the United States – deporting these young adults would send them to countries they do not call home.

Congress should immediately pass S. 128/H.R. 496, the BRIDGE Act, which would provide an opportunity for these young adults to defer deportation and lawfully work for three years while Congress comes up with a lasting solution. President Trump and his team would not be able to revoke this status if it is passed into law by Congress.

Override the executive orders and work to pass community-oriented immigration and border reform

The BRIDGE Act is just the beginning. Even if the BRIDGE Act is passed, the families of these young adults and millions of other undocumented immigrants are still in serious jeopardy of being torn from their communities. Many individuals may be deported back to danger or detained indefinitely because of these executive orders.

President Trump’s orders are reactive to symptoms of a problem, not the root of it. The problem is an outdated and punitive immigration system.

The inability for Congress to act has left millions of people living in limbo every day with no means towards gaining lawful status. Families are ripped apart on a daily basis. Individuals are deported to countries they do not call home. U.S. industries are dependent on temporary immigrant workers yet the system provides no opportunity for certain workers to achieve citizenship or lawful permanent residence.

Asylum seekers – including children – are jailed and deported rather than given full access to U.S. asylum processes and legal counsel. Communities at the border have lived with increased militarization and infringement of civil liberties for over two decades.

Congress is the only body that has the authority to offer a long term solution by amending and reforming the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). They must look carefully at our immigration system, and pass legislation that provides meaningful pathways for immigrants to live their lives to their full potential and continue contributing to U.S. communities.

In the interim – they should reject the implementation of these executive orders that promise to further entrench injustice for immigrants and the communities to which they belong.

Hannah Graf Evans

  • Former Legislative Representative, Immigration and Refugee Policy

Hannah Graf Evans led FCNL's lobbying for compassionate immigration and refugee policies, with a particular focus on detention practices, the rights of border communities, and protection of vulnerable communities. Hannah served as co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition steering committee for three years.