Robb: Trump's immigration orders are not that bad
Not everything Donald Trump does should be greeted with hysteria. And what Trump proposed in executive orders relating to immigration enforcement doesn’t merit the hysterical response it received.
During the campaign, Trump said he would build a wall along the southern border and beef up immigration enforcement. It was a central plank in his platform. He won.
The steps he announced to fulfill his campaign pledge aren’t outrageous or unreasonable.
On the wall, he has, in essence, ordered preliminary design and engineering. The order acknowledges that actually building the thing will require additional appropriations from Congress.
On immigration enforcement, he called for increased staffing for the border patrol and internal immigration officers, and additional detention facilities for those awaiting deportation. But, again, there is an acknowledgement that these things will require additional appropriations from Congress.
Trump ordered a revival of a program through which state and local cops can be trained to serve as federal immigration officers as well. There is nothing mandatory about participating in this program. No state, city or county is being forced to round up illegal immigrants for deportation.
But local jurisdictions that want to be a force multiplier for immigration enforcement would again have the opportunity to do that.
That power can be abused. But state and local police forces already have enormous powers that can be abused. The argument that federal immigration law is so complex that state and local cops cannot learn and abide by the appropriate limits regarding stops and detentions is wholly unpersuasive. They already learn and abide by such limitations in far more complex situations.
The revival of the Secure Communities program, the so-called Sanctuary Cities provision, has been the subject of the most unmerited hysteria.
Currently, when local police fingerprint someone taken into custody, the prints are sent to the FBI for cross-referencing. Under Secure Communities, the FBI conveys the information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If ICE determines that the individual is an illegal immigrant and fits its priorities for deportation, it can ask the local department to detain the person for no more than 48 hours.
That’s it. Nothing in the program requires local law enforcement to arrest or fingerprint anyone they aren’t already arresting or fingerprinting. It doesn’t require them to do anything different with the prints than they are already doing. All they have to do is honor a detention request from ICE if it determines that person fits its priorities for deportation.
Whether federal funds can be withheld from cities that refuse to honor ICE detention requests, as Trump proposes, is a legal question that undoubtedly will be litigated. But it’s not a big or unreasonable thing to ask local police departments to do.
Now, Trump has also expanded the universe of illegal immigrants to prioritize for deportation, compared to the criteria left by the Obama administration. But it is still considerably smaller than the entire universe of illegal immigrants. And the practical constraints of deportation capacity will probably mean that the change won’t turn out to be all that significant.
There are plenty of grounds on which to disagree with Trump’s initiatives.
A wall isn’t the most effective way of achieving the desired results. Mandatory use of electronic verification of employment eligibility through E-Verify would do more to reduce economically motivated illegal immigration. Legalization of marijuana would do more to reduce drug trafficking and gang-related violence.
I favor amnesty for most of those currently here illegally, combined with the mandatory use of E-Verify to ensure that there aren’t subsequent waves of illegal immigration.
But changing the immigration status of those currently here illegally is the job of Congress. As president, Trump’s job is to faithfully execute the laws as they exist. There is nothing Trump has proposed that doesn’t more faithfully execute the laws as they currently exist.
Save the hysteria for Trump actions that truly merit it. This administration will be exhausting enough without chronic overreaction.
Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic.