President Donald Trump did something unfortunately not so surprising on Wednesday: he signed executive orders regarding his much-mentioned immigration plans.
The scope of the orders is sweeping, and the potential implications are disturbing. The orders include the wall; aggressive renewed priorities of “alien” removal; and threats of defunding toward the so-called sanctuary cities that seek to defend their undocumented and recent immigrants.
New York is one of those cities and could be seriously affected by this stroke of Trump’s pen. But the orders are also vague, sometimes contradictory, and possibly more aimed at “gesture” than action, as the city’s top lawyer Zachary Carter said earlier this week.
Here’s an early attempt at untangling gesture and action, and determining the potential effects and fights for NYC ahead.
Trump’s orders paint with a broad brush
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement took a relatively narrow view of who to prioritize for deportation, which these orders appear to dramatically enlarge.
One section (Section 5 of the “Enhancing Public Safety” order) describes the new priorities for which potentially “removable aliens” ICE should focus on first. The broad language means many of them.
These individuals, who can range from undocumented immigrants to legal permanent residents in some cases, wouldn’t have to do much to get on a high priority list. They could be convicted of “any criminal offense,” but also merely charged with one (even if they’re not necessarily guilty). Or even less clearly, simply having “committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense” could be enough.
The section implies that any criminal offense — say selling, or perhaps, smoking marijuana — could be grounds for high priority deportation.
The only non-citizens who are not included under these rules are those who have never had any contact with the criminal justice system, says Nancy Morawetz, professor of clinical law and NYU’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. “And that might be too generous,” she says of the characterization, given the loose wording.
Another provision prioritizes those who have committed fraud in “any official matter,” which some reports have suggested could plausibly mean lying about your citizenship on a job application.
The final provision of Section 5 also prioritizes the removal of “aliens” who “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
This is such a wide expansion of discretion “you could drive a Mack truck through it,” says Ruthie Epstein, deputy advocacy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
But this doesn’t mean the NYPD will begin rounding up immigrants here illegally on the basis of these egregiously open and vague definitions.
Trump’s orders encourage local police departments to deputize themselves as ICE agents and do just that, but do not force them to do so. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD have said forcefully that they won’t be ICE’s deputies, and will only cooperate with ICE concerning immigrants here illegally and recently convicted of certain felonies.
That city list includes 170 felonies of varying seriousness, such as felonies associated with leaving the scene of a vehicular or traffic crime. Even if the NYPD only targets that list, you could argue that is more cooperation than many New York City residents want.
But Trump’s priorities can’t make the NYPD further strengthen theirs. So his enforcement plans most directly affect New Yorkers only if ICE increased operations in New York directly. One of Trump’s orders calls for the hiring of 10,000 new ICE officers, so the agency would have increased manpower. But deployment depends on what the new secretary of Homeland Security decides — which will be the thing to watch in the coming months.
Will New York pay for all this?
The ax Trump would like to hang over “sanctuary cities” like New York is federal funding. The orders — once again, in contradictory ways — threaten that funding.
A report from the city comptroller just after the election found that NYC could lose about $7 billion in federal funding, for issues like homelessness and counterterrorism. That’s a lot given that de Blasio just announced a budget of $84.67 billion with limited preparation for cuts. There is language in these orders that seems to gesture at an attempt at large scale disinvestment: one passage directs the director of the Office of Management and Budget “to obtain and provide relevant and responsive information on all Federal grant money that currently is received by any sanctuary jurisdiction.”
In a news conference Wednesday de Blasio cited a 2012 Supreme Court decision which he said suggested the feds wouldn’t be able to threaten unrelated funding without a legal fight.
Still, the administration and comptroller identified more than $150 million — largely in counterterrorism funding and some $9 million in Department of Justice-related assistance grants — that could be threatened, all of which would likely be complained about and perhaps fought against in court, but is not likely to be a large enough hit to the budget to change elected hearts and minds from continuing moral resistance. Especially if it’s politically beneficial.
The parts of Trump’s executive orders not in headlines
There are other strange and sometimes alarming bits of these orders, including the creation of an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens,” charged with releasing quarterly reports on “effects of the victimization by criminal aliens” — potentially providing the kind of questionable evidence about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants that Trump used to whip up anti-immigrant fervor during the campaign.
Because it bears repeating, studies find that immigrants are less likely than natives to commit crimes.
Immigration from Mexico is decreasing, not increasing, and many of those coming from places like Central America, not to mention those looking to enter from the Middle East, flee deprivation and violence in search of the American ideal.
It remains to be seen how much of that ideal is threatened here, versus more bluster and campaign.