Donald Trump continues to insist, in interviews and on Twitter, that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for his border wall. But in a speech unveiling his executive order, and in the order itself, the only people left holding the bill are U.S. taxpayers.
Donald Trump signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday, and followed those signings with a speech at the Department of Homeland Security in which he announced the construction of his long-promised border wall, fearmongered about crime, and promised to crack down on "sanctuary cities."
TRUMP: The Secretary of Homeland Security, working with myself and my staff, will begin immediate construction of a border wall. [applause] So badly needed. You folks know how badly needed it is, as a help, but very badly needed. This will also help Mexico by deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks. As I've said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out, the criminals and the drug dealers and gangs and gang members and cartel leaders. The day is over when they can stay in our country and wreak havoc. We are going to get them out, and we are going to get them out fast. And John Kelly is going to lead that way. [cheers and applause]
Our order also does the following: Ends the policy of catch and release at the border; requires other countries to take back their criminals — they will take them back; cracks down on sanctuary cities; empowers I.C.E. officers to target and remove those who pose a threat to public safety; calls for the hiring of another 5,000 border patrol officers; calls for tripling the number of I.C.E. officers.
Incidentally, here is a notable fact: The immigration reform bill that Republicans blocked under President Obama would have added 23,000 Border Patrol and Border Protection officers.
What Trump did not say at this speech, though, may be the bigger story.
Curiously, he made no mention of his common campaign claim to make Mexico pay for, or reimburse the United States for, the border wall. And his executive order also leaves that out, instead offering this bluff at Mexico's foreign aid:
Sec. 9. Foreign Aid Reporting Requirements. The head of each executive department and agency shall identify and quantify all sources of direct and indirect Federal aid or assistance to the Government of Mexico on an annual basis over the past five years, including all bilateral and multilateral development aid, economic assistance, humanitarian aid, and military aid. Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each executive department and agency shall submit this information to the Secretary of State. Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall submit to the President a consolidated report reflecting the levels of such aid and assistance that has been provided annually, over each of the past five years.
As we have previously reported, Trump's dubious proposals to recoup costs from Mexico amount to a drop in the bucket, even if he managed to enact them. But the key point here is that he does not even mention them from the podium, or in his order, despite his consistent adamant declarations on the matter throughout the 2016 campaign and after the election.
Trump's separate order on "sanctuary cities" is, like the border wall order, mostly a restatement of existing law and policy, with one troubling exception (emphasis mine):
In furtherance of this policy, the Attorney General and the Secretary, in their discretion and to the extent consistent with law, shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary. The Secretary has the authority to designate, in his discretion and to the extent consistent with law, a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction. The Attorney General shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates 8 U.S.C. 1373, or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.
It is doubtful that this order actually empowers the attorney general to deny grants or take any "enforcement actions" (the statue cited contains no penalties) against "sanctuary cities." And the attempt itself could tie up funding for a slew of public health and safety priorities that do not fall under that narrow exception for "law enforcement purposes."
Many Democrats denounced Trump's executive orders, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who released this statement:
With today’s sweeping and constitutionally suspect executive actions, the President is turning his back on both our history and our values as a proud nation of immigrants. Wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on a border wall Mexico will never pay for, and punishing cities that do not want their local police forces forced to serve as President Trump’s deportation dragnet does nothing to fix our immigration system or keep Americans safe.
Law-abiding, hard-working immigrant families deserve better than the Trump Administration’s radical xenophobia. Who is made safer when immigrant families cannot go to the police when they are witnesses or victims of crimes? In San Francisco and across the nation, we will fight for the right of any community to choose humane and effective law enforcement strategies that work to protect and serve, not deport and intimidate.
House Democrats will continue to stand our ground in the face of this Administration and House Republicans’ schemes by fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and fiercely protecting American families.”
The practical effects of Trump's immigration orders are very limited, but as Pelosi notes, their intent is simply incompatible with American values, and with our laws.
And as Trump's speech makes clear, it also happens to be incompatible with his own campaign promises — but it is right in keeping with his pattern of lies and hateful demagoguery.