What do Trump’s new orders on immigration really do?

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Pedestrians walk past fences and and barb wire as they make their way from Mexico to the United States at the border crossing in San Ysidro, California, U.S., January 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Mike Blake - RTSXD2R

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a deeper look now at President Trump’s executive actions on immigration and border security with Marielena Hincapie, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. It’s an immigrant rights group. And Jessica Vaughan, she’s from the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tougher border security.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

Marielena, I’m going to start with you.

Overall reaction to what the president had to say today?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center: Well, Judy, we are — we find this announcement today as an extremist policy.

I think President Trump’s campaign rhetoric that was anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim today is becoming a harsh reality. And it’s sending a message of great fear to immigrant communities across the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jessica Vaughan, reaction to what he had to say overall?

JESSICA VAUGHAN, Center for Immigration Studies: This is a very impressive set of actions. He really went big.

But that is what was needed to restore integrity to our immigration system, and to not only secure the border, but also restart interior enforcement, which has collapsed in the last few years, and shine that not only do we need border security, but it has to be backed up by policies that make sure that people cannot game our system.

You know, the end to the catch and release system that’s been in place for the last few years is going to make a big difference in deterring future illegal immigration. And that’s important. We needed to start sending that message to people that they aren’t going to be able to get away with just getting to the United States, getting in, and then being home-free from enforcement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me pick up on that and ask Marielena Hincapie about that.

What about — the president said, we’re going to stop the so-called catch and release, where they were stopping people, arresting them, but then letting them go and said come back for a certain court date.

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Right.

And the reason that people are being allowed to go before an immigration judge is because many of the people, particularly from Central America in the recent, last couple of years were people that actually, once they went before an immigration judge, were able to show that they had a credible fear and that they were eligible for asylum.

This is a country where we believe that every single person should have their fair day in court. That is no different in our immigration system. The problem is, we have a very dysfunctional immigration system, very few immigration judges.

And, in fact, one of the things that President Trump has done, not today, but in some of his previous announcements, has been to freeze all federal hires. And that includes immigration judges.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Jessica Vaughan, if it is a system that could have been working if there were enough people, enough federal employees to make it work, why then dismantle it and go back and say we won’t release you anymore?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, the system has been exploited and too many cases dumped on the immigration courts that should never have been there.

There are other forms of due process that ICE could have been using and the Border Patrol could have been using all these years that would have been resolved much more quickly and used less resources, and brought about a quicker resolution to the case for the illegal immigrant.

But what’s going to happen now is, they’re going to put resources at the border, so that the Border Patrol can resolve these cases. There will be asylum officers and immigration judges there, so that any applications for asylum can be dealt with very quickly.

And what we won’t see is tens of thousands of people admitted into the country who then skip out on their immigration hearings or are not successful in getting asylum, but then just disappear into the woodwork and ICE is told not to go looking for them.

That is what makes our system so dysfunctional now, and that’s what is going to change under these actions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marielena Hincapie, one of the things the president announced was hiring more Border Patrol agents, hiring more immigration officials. Why isn’t that a good thing in order to enforce the law?

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: We actually already have a lot of both Border Patrol agents and immigration agents.

What is happening, Judy, is, one, is a lot of what was announced today, particularly with respect to the wall, particularly with respect to the number of Border Patrol and immigration agents, frankly, is political theatrics.

None of that is going to go into effect without congressional appropriations, without more money, more federal spending. And, in fact, it is us as taxpayers that will pay for all of that.

Part of what was really troubling about today’s announcements is, as Jessica mentioned, it’s not just at the border, but in the interior, the orders begin, the executive order today begins by saying that every individual, right — we’re talking about the 11 million undocumented immigrants — are considered a national security threat, a public safety threat.

That includes people who are taking care of our children. It includes people who are picking our fruits and vegetables. It includes people who are serving us at restaurants. Those are not individuals who are, in fact, national security threats. They are our neighbors. They are part of our families.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about the wall.

But, before I do that, let me ask you, Jessica Vaughan, about this notion. Did the president send a signal today that every one of these, whether it’s 11 million or 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, are a threat?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: No, I don’t think that’s what is being said at all.

Under the law, of course, anyone who is here illegally is potentially subject to deportation. But these orders focus very clearly on deterring illegal immigration, dealing very quickly with people who cross the border illegally, and enforcing the law in the interior of the country, with criminal aliens being the top priority.

So, that is appropriate. That’s smart enforcement. That’s what has been missing for the last eight years. And, yes, enforcement costs money, but illegal immigration and tolerating illegal immigration costs much more. The National Academy of Science has found that it’s something like $50 billion a year that goes to services to illegal alien-headed households.

And it’s about time that we get back on track and start enforcing the law again. That’s what the public expects. That’s why they voted for Donald Trump in part.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to respond quickly to that, and then we’re going to ask about …

(CROSSTALK)

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Yes.

So, actually, that’s not what has been missing, Judy. Under President Obama, he was in fact focusing on people with criminal convictions.

What is different here is, in addition to focusing on individuals with criminal convictions, this executive order actually says that individuals who have been charged with a crime, even if they haven’t been convicted, even someone who may have done something that is considered to be a crime would be priorities for enforcement.

Again, that is deeply troubling in a country when we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. Due process is critical to both our criminal justice system, as well as our immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jessica Vaughan, only a minute left.

On the wall, the president said throughout the campaign this was something going to be paid for by Mexico. Today, though, he said, at least initially, the taxpayers will pay for it. Did you want him to go farther than that? Is this what you expected?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: This is pretty much what I expected.

It will take time to raise the revenue from other sources, whether it’s Mexico or illegal aliens or, you know, through remittances or withheld tax refunds or visa fees or what have you. There are lots of different ways to raise that revenue.

But I think Congress is very willing and the public is very willing to put taxpayer funds up front to get this enforcement going right away and to improve security at the border, because, as I said, it’s a lot more expensive not to enforce the law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quick, 10 seconds on the wall.

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: This is political theatrics, Judy.

Mexico was never going to pay for this wall. We as taxpayers are now stuck with that bill. Everything that has been announced by President Trump is extreme, it’s expensive, and ineffective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to continue to it look at this. We know more will be unfolding in the days to come on the question of immigration.

Marielena Hincapie, Jessica Vaughan, thank you.

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: Thank you.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: You’re welcome.

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