FACT CHECK: What Has President Trump Done To Fight Illegal Immigration?

Aug 22, 2017
Originally published on August 22, 2017 9:08 pm

President Trump returns Tuesday night to the same Phoenix convention center where he spoke during the campaign last year, laying out a 10-point plan to fight illegal immigration.

He's also visiting a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, Ariz., a few miles from the Southwest border.

Now seven months into his presidency, Trump has pushed for dramatic changes to the nation's immigration system. But he's also been stymied by Congress and by the courts.

Here's a look at what the Trump White House has accomplished on each of those 10 promises — and what it hasn't.

1. "We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall."

The border wall remains more aspiration than reality. The Department of Homeland Security is waiving environmental rules to speed up construction of prototypes near San Diego.

But so far, Mexico has balked at paying for the wall. And so has Congress. The House has appropriated nearly $1.6 billion for the first phase of construction, but the Senate hasn't.

2. "We are going to end catch and release."

Administration officials say they're following through on Trump's promise to end so-called catch and release. That's how many critics describe the policy that allowed many immigrants to go free until their court dates, which can often be years away because of court backlogs.

In practice, it's not clear that the Trump administration is handling these cases much differently than previous administrations did.

But there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people apprehended at the Southwest border since Trump took office — a 46 percent drop during the first seven months of the year compared to 2016, according to a DHS official. The total for March was the lowest in at least 17 years, although the numbers have started to creep back up since then.

3. "Zero tolerance for criminal aliens."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests are up more than 43 percent since late January compared to the same period in 2016, according to a DHS official. "We are still continuing to prioritize our resources on those individuals that create and pose the greatest public safety and national security threat," the official said. Seventy-two percent of those arrested had criminal convictions, a much lower percentage than the final years of the Obama administration.

Trump has pushed Congress for funding to hire more agents for ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But like funding for the border wall, Congress has yet to sign off.

4. "Block funding for sanctuary cities."

The Justice Department is trying to follow through on that promise to punish so-called sanctuary cities, which limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. DOJ made some law enforcement grants contingent on whether those cities do more to help ICE.

But Chicago and California quickly took the administration to court. That's in addition to lawsuits filed earlier this year by San Francisco, Seattle and other self-described sanctuary cities.

5. "Cancel unconstitutional executive orders and enforce all immigration laws."

This probably refers to two Obama-era executive actions including DACA, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children from deportation.

The Trump White House dropped its support for a related program called DAPA, which was supposed to help the parents of those children.

But so far, the White House has allowed DACA to continue, much to the dismay of immigration hard-liners. Texas and other states are threatening to sue if the administration doesn't pull its support for DACA by Sept. 5.

6. "We are going to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur."

This is part of what Trump's travel ban executive order was supposed to do.

The order Trump signed just a week after taking office would have blocked travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries that the administration says are known havens for terrorists.

Federal courts put the original order on hold. But the Supreme Court allowed a limited version of the travel ban to take effect until it can hear legal challenges to the ban in the fall.

7. "We will ensure that other countries take their people back when we order them deported."

Trump pointed out in Phoenix last year that immigrants with criminal records can wind up staying in the U.S. because their home country won't take them back. The White House has reportedly cut the number of non-cooperative countries from 23 to 12. Immigration hawks say that's a big win, and that the administration deserves more credit for it.

8. "We will finally complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system which we need desperately."

For years, Congress has required the Department of Homeland Security to create a system to track everyone who comes in and out of the country using biometric technologies like facial recognition or fingerprint scanners.

In recent years, a majority of new undocumented immigrants have overstayed temporary visas, while the number crossing the border illegally has fallen.

Customs and Border Protection is testing a few prototype systems at U.S. airports this summer. But experts say a comprehensive solution that will work at more than 300 land, sea and air ports of entry remains a long way off.

9. "We will turn off the jobs and benefits magnet."

In the spring, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to "Buy American" and "Hire American," and urging others to do the same.

But critics point out that Trump's own companies continue to hire foreign guest workers and manufacture overseas. And just as the White House's "Made in America" week was underway in July, the administration announced it would allow an additional 15,000 temporary foreign workers.

10. "We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people."

Earlier this month, the White House threw its support behind the RAISE Act, which would prioritize immigrants with valuable skills and high-paying U.S. job offers, and gradually reduce the number of other foreign nationals who can reunite with their families already living in the U.S. But there seems to be little enthusiasm for the bill in the Senate.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is in Arizona today. His first stop is a Customs and Border Protection facility just a few miles from the southwest border, then a campaign rally. He's holding it at the same Phoenix Convention Center where last year, he outlined his plans to fight illegal immigration. Joining us now to talk about what the Trump White House has accomplished on immigration and what it has not is NPR's Joel Rose. Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Looking back on Trump's speech in Phoenix last year, what stands out to you?

ROSE: Well, it was full of specific policy proposals. A lot of what the Trump administration has tried to roll out or rolled out on immigration is right there in that speech. Trump laid out a 10-point plan. And right at the top was the border wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall.

SHAPIRO: And Joel, has he kept that promise?

ROSE: Well, seven months in, construction on the wall has not begun. In that speech last year, Trump said that Mexico would pay for the wall, quote, "100 percent," unquote. You do not hear the administration talking publicly much about that anymore. Mexico, of course, says it will not pay for the wall. And Congress doesn't seem to be in much of a rush either. The House has appropriated $1.6 billion for the first stage of construction. But the Senate is expected to reduce that amount.

SHAPIRO: Something else the president talked about last year was hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents. Has that happened?

ROSE: That is off to a slow start as well. The Border Patrol actually has fewer agents right now than it did when President Trump took office in January. And I should say this is not a brand new story for the Border Patrol. It's struggled with high attrition rates. And it can take a long time to hire agents. The White House is seeking money for more Border Patrol agents, as you say, and also for additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

But Congress has not approved money for those requests either.

SHAPIRO: What about the Trump administration taking credit for a drop in the number of people apprehended at the southwest border since President Trump took office? Fact check that for us.

ROSE: Well, the numbers are definitely down. For the first seven months of the year, there's been a 46 percent drop in the number of apprehensions at the southwest border, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. But I should note that this is part of a long-term trend that apprehensions at the border have been mostly falling for the past 15 years or so. Still, there was a really steep drop off from when you compare the end of 2016 to the first half of 2017.

Also, the Trump administration has been removing more undocumented immigrants from inside the country. ICE says arrests are up more than 40 percent for the first half of the year.

SHAPIRO: President Trump also promised in Phoenix that he would cancel President Obama's executive orders on immigration. What's the status of that?

ROSE: Well, Trump didn't actually say one of these executive actions by name in Phoenix. But it seemed that the one that he was talking about was DACA. That's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects undocumented immigrants who came into the country as children. It protects them from deportation and allows them to get work permits. There are roughly $800,000 DACA recipients around the country. So far, the Trump administration has not gotten rid of DACA, even though the administration is definitely under pressure to do that from immigration hardliners.

And Texas and several other states are kind of trying to force the issue. They're threatening to sue if the administration doesn't pull its support for DACA before September 5. So the administration is going to have to make a decision on that and fairly soon.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds as though when you look at the scorecard on immigration promises, a lot of these items, so far, are incomplete.

ROSE: I think you'd have to say that. I mean, there have been some wins, I think the administration would say, for example, the drop in apprehensions at the border. But the big ticket items, the border wall, more Border Patrol agents, ICE agents, a lot of that still depends on funding from Congress. And that has not materialized.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks a lot.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.