White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told Bloomberg News President Donald Trump’s immigration push so far has relied almost entirely on instructing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement existing laws and authorities.
“People don’t appreciate the extent to which we’ve set in motion a substantial and long-overdue change to U.S. immigration policy, simply by directing the DHS to use existing laws and authorities,” he said in a profile published Monday.
His point is obvious, yet largely ignored in the media discussion of Trump’s initial crack down on immigration. Much of what he’s done so far is to reverse policies implemented by former President Barack Obama that encouraged immigration officials to prioritize certain enforcement laws, while turning a blind eye to others. But even when he’s exercised discretion through executive orders, such as by capping refugees, Trump is sometimes simply undoing recent changes to policy made by Obama.
Trump was able to order construction of a wall on the southern border by executive order, for example, because of the authority granted to him by a 2006 law that Obama chose not to fully implement. He didn’t have to expend valuable political capital to get Congress to pass a new law, because the wall former President George W. Bush ordered through that legislation was never fully constructed.
And the president’s instructions to DHS, which have caused panic among some immigrants and activists, and a swell of dramatic headlines in the press, really boil down to instructing them to enforce long-standing immigration law. Rather than go easy on some classes of illegal immigrants — as the Obama administration had instructed — officials are now under orders to detain and deport every illegal immigrant they encounter. All agents, including Customs and Border Protection agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, are to identify, arrest and deport as soon as possible illegal immigrants who cross into their paths.
Some of the press is blaming the DHS memo for putting vast swaths of illegal immigrants at risk of deportation, but the reality is Trump is simply ordering the enforcement of existing law, and they put themselves at risk when they began residing in the country illegally.
Trump’s immigration ban is a bit of a different case, but again some of what he wants to accomplish there is simply a reversion back to previously existing policies. His “crack down” on the number of refugees the U.S. accepts every year is actually taking the higher levels ordered by Obama (100,000+ per year) and reducing them to about the levels of George W. Bush ( about 70,000).
While Trump’s actions are shocking to some and indeed mark a massive shift in U.S. immigration policy from the Obama years, as Miller points out, they do not, so far, mark a significant change in U.S. immigration law.
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