What Do Trump’s Executive Orders Really Mean? Part 1/3

Trump and administration at press conferenceThis series looks at the recent executive orders on immigration the Trump administration signed. Many, however have been left wondering what the actual impact of the new executive actions will be in practice. We hope this three-part executive order series of what we know so far will be helpful in finding answers. Click here to read parts two and three.

President Trump climbed the rostrum at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, January 25 to a 19th century abolitionist anthem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which includes the lyric, “let us die to make men free.” Far from promising freedom, however, the new President pledged only detention, deportation, and family separation on an unprecedented scale. The orders issued on Wednesday in the name of public safety and border security—the first of several anticipated executive actions targeting refugee and immigrant communities —threaten to fulfill the worst expectations for Trump’s presidency and to bring his horrifying campaign proposals into reality.

There was no mistaking the intent behind the President’s toxic rhetoric Wednesday, which cast undocumented people as violent criminals and implied collective guilt on their part purely on the basis of race and national origin.

Trump’s executive orders will separate families and sow terror among immigrant communities through mass deportation.

The orders call for the hiring of 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, empowered to:

  • Conduct mass deportations with the broad mandate to “execute […] the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens.”
  • Enable federal officers to deputize state and local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents, effectively creating an even more extensive deportation force.
  • Call for federal grants to be stripped from “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to comply with or assist federal enforcement efforts.

The orders will likewise reinstate the notorious Obama-era “Secure Communities” program, under which state and local police held undocumented people in county jails on ICE detainers, to be later picked up by federal authorities and deported. “Secure Communities” was eventually retired in 2014 due to public outcry, as it effectively exposed any undocumented person who encountered local police—even for a minor offense, such as a broken taillight—to detention, deportation, and separation from their loved ones. The program not only tore families apart, but ironically, it also made communities less secure, by eviscerating trust of law enforcement agencies among the undocumented.

UUSC stands in solidarity and partnership with immigrants and refugees regardless of what comes next, so that the lyrics that accompanied the President’s speech Wednesday may be something other than a cruel irony… Let us strive to make all people free!

Read parts two and three in our series on Trump’s executive orders and their effect on criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

What Will Happen to Refugees Under a Trump Administration?

refugees walking in sunsetAs we prepare for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, we know that what we do and the way we work must change. UUSC has been working hard, connecting with local, state, and national partners to understand what the effects may be for refugees and immigrants, and how to best to mobilize in the face of increased racism, xenophobia, hate, and fear. 

This is an important time for all of us to carefully reflect, evaluate, and redouble our commitment to human rights both inside and beyond the United States. This is a struggle that will require each and every one of us to take action in a wide range of roles. With our partners, UUSC is preparing an exciting new comprehensive campaign to be launched in January. Please watch for announcements about how you can join this effort. 

In the meantime, it is important for all of us to become more aware of what is at stake for U.S. policy towards welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers – some of the most vulnerable communities under the incoming administration.   

Can Trump shut down the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program?

Short answer: Yes, but he is more likely to undermine it than shut it down completely.

  • The President-elect has said that he will not challenge local, county, and state regulations that bar refugees from resettlement in their communities.
  • President Trump will have the authority, under the 1980 Refugee Act, to unilaterally determine the number of refugees the U.S. will accept. This year, President Obama raised that number from 70,000 to 110,000 for 2017. President Trump can set a new number – even as low as zero.
  • The President-elect’s public statements suggest that he is very likely to shrink, underfund, or “pause” the refugee resettlement program, in order to review the process. A suspension of resettlement is extremely dangerous because, while it sounds less serious than “dismantling” resettlement, it could have the same result. All of the infrastructure, including refugee resettlement agencies that depend on federal funding, would be forced to close, and would not be easy to re-establish if and when it was restarted.

Can refugees already in the U.S. be deported?

Short answer: In most cases, no, but the exceptions may become more common.

  • Refugees already in the United States, including those with legal resident green cards as well as those with only refugee status, have legal protection from deportations. However, Trump’s plans to expand the definition of who is a “criminal immigrant” and thus, possibly deportable, will surely catch many refugees in its wider net. Any non-citizen who is 1) charged, but not convicted of a crime, 2) has a non-violent misdemeanor record (no matter how long ago), or 3) is merely suspected of gang behavior, will likely be priority categories for deportation under a Trump presidency.
  • Asylum-seekers, such as the Central American families held in family detention centers, may be held in detention for multiple years while they pursue protection. In addition to an unacceptable human rights violation, this also makes it harder for them to have access to a lawyer as they pursue their case.
  • If a Trump Administration reinstates the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), described as his “Muslim registry,” U.S. visa-holders from majority-Muslim countries will be subject to heightened monitoring and increased risk of deportation. This will include both asylum-seekers and non-refugees.

Can Trump actually ban Muslim refugees from entering the United States?

Short Answer: Kind of – and more.

  • While an across-the-board ban designed to block all Muslims from entering the United States (e.g., as a tourist or student, on a business visa, etc.) is widely believed to be unconstitutional, he absolutely has power to limit entry as it pertains to refugees. The administration may prioritize Christians and other non-Muslims for resettlement or, more likely, stop refugee resettlement for entire countries and regions, primarily but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, regardless of the individual’s religious background.

What else could happen?

Short Answer: Unfortunately, a lot we don’t know, but here are a list of some immediate possibilities and areas for concern. (That’s why we need to organize!)

  • There is a high risk of states passing anti-refugee bills, which the federal government under Trump would be likely to support rather than challenge.
  • The possible end of the Affordable Care Act will result in a high rate of loss of health care coverage for refugee families.
  • Asylum-seekers could be blocked at the border and not allowed to apply for entry (in violation of international law). Our advocacy partners have already documented cases of this happening in Tijuana, Mexico.
  • There could be threats to LGBTQ asylum-seekers status as a protected “social group,” which provides them a right to asylum when targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Despite these disturbing possibilities, we see many reasons to be hopeful in this moment, in particular, the work of community members like you. Grassroots movements are growing and many people are getting involved in local and regional efforts for the first time. This sense of urgency is helping to break down barriers and bring diverse groups together to protect and defend current rights, and continue working for a more just future.

UUSC applauds court ruling and continues the call for an end to family detention

Last week, Texas District Court Judge Karin Crump ruled that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) could not issue child care licenses to the family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City. The licenses are required by a federal settlement agreement and without them, the facilities cannot lawfully hold families with children. UUSC Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk, Jillian Tuck explained Judge Crump’s ruling, “Again a court has found that locking up children and their parents in prison-like facilities is unacceptable. Flores requires that facilities detaining children have state child care licenses, and without them, ICE, as well as the private and public providers they contract with, are operating outside the law.”

“Locking up children and their parents in prison-like facilities is unacceptable.”
– Senior Program Leader for Rights at Risk, Jillian Tuck

Virtually overnight Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released over 470 mothers and children from detention centers to UUSC partner, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). RAICES serves immigrants and refugees by providing immigration legal services, advocacy, and opportunities for educational and social support. In partnership with RAICES, UUSC has long been a vocal advocate for the tens of thousands of refugees who come to the United States after fleeing violence in Central America.

RAICES reports that the asylum-seeking families who were released are in various stages of the legal processes that normally take place in detention and is working to place them with their families and friends. They will continue to accept released families from detention at their shelter in San Antonio. UUSC is committed to ending the practice of detaining immigrant families seeking asylum and supporting those who’ve been released in their quest to seek permanent protection.

According to ICE, as of Monday, December 5 there were still 2,479 mothers and children in family detention centers across the country: 1,787 people held at Dilley; 606 at Karnes County Residential Center; and 86 held at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, Texas DFPS, which argues that their child-care licensing meets minimum standards set by Flores and improves safety, has already filed an appeal to Judge Crump’s decision. UUSC continues to join RAICES, among multiple others, in calling on President Obama to end family detention before he leaves office.