Tales from the Borderlands: An Early Analysis of the “Border Security” Executive Order

(This is the first installment of a series of articles unpacking the many executive orders issued in Donald Trump’s first week of office. Though I am not an immigration specialist, I am a legal generalist working with indigent populations professionally full-time. This article is not intended to form an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice, though it is my hope that it will help people understand what is going on.)

Of all of Donald Trump’s promises, perhaps his most famous was his promise that he would personally ensure that the American government would “build a wall” to keep out “illegal immigrants.” It is therefore not surprising that one of his first acts in office is to sign an executive order entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” which outlines his plan for building a wall (among other things). The order is long — it contains seventeen distinct sections — and a lot of it is either vague, confusing, or both. This article is intended to break down what the executive order is actually saying, to help families prepare and to inform the average citizen what we can expect on this front.

Here’s what is new and clearly articulated as of today, January 25:

  • The administration is ordering a wall built on the border between the United States and Mexico. Yes, that’s really a thing that is apparently happening. That said, it’s still unclear what the funding streams will be, what the budget will be, or generally what the plan is for construction.

Here’s what the executive order might be saying, but we need more information to really know:

  • Detained immigrants may be sent back to the place they are fleeing — or they might not. The exact language in the executive order is “The Secretary shall take appropriate action . . . to ensure that aliens . . . are returned to the territory from which they came pending a formal removal proceeding.” It’s not clear whether that would mean “we stick you in a truck and give you a nice starlight tour of Mexico,” or it actually means people might be extradited to the country they are fleeing. As awful as the former would be, the latter would be even worse — but it’s likely the latter is the accurate interpretation, because this administration has been adamant in its denial of refugees, and the policies in this order about asylum aren’t exactly much better. Relatedly…

Here’s what the executive order dictates for the near future, which presumably will clarify some things:

  • Several reports or reviews. Per the executive order, there’s a report due to the President in ninety days on the general progress of all of these directives, and another one due in one hundred and eighty days. There’s nothing guaranteeing that any of us will be told anything about this, but I suspect strongly that anything that makes this administration look good will be reported upon at length.

And now you know everything you ever wanted to know about this executive order! And presumably several things you didn’t. At any rate, it’s going to be a rough few years, but if you are reading this, you presumably knew this already. Keep on keeping on, and take care of yourself while you do; we’ll do everything we can to keep all of this bearable.

(Note: Click here to continue to the second installment, on the Enhanced Public Safety executive order.)

Boots on the ground for social change, one step at a time.