President Trump’s vision of a “big, beautiful” wall along the Mexican border may never be realized, and almost certainly not as a 2,000-mile physical structure spanning sea to sea.
But in a systematic and less visible way, his administration is following a blueprint to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States — those who are undocumented and those here legally — and overhaul the U.S. immigration system for generations to come.
Across agencies and programs, federal officials are wielding executive authority to assemble a bureaucratic wall that could be more effective than any concrete and metal one. While some actions have drawn widespread attention, others have been put in place more quietly.
The administration has moved to slash the number of refugees, accelerate deportations and terminate the provisional residency of more than a million people, among other measures. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said nearly 60,000 Haitians allowed to stay in the United States after a devastating 2010 earthquake have until July 2019 to leave or obtain another form of legal status.
“He’s building a virtual wall by his actions and his rhetoric,” said Kevin Appleby, migration policy director for the Center for Migration Studies, a nonprofit think tank.
Trump administration officials say they are simply upholding laws their predecessors did not and preserving American jobs. Previous Republican and Democratic administrations were too soft on enforcement, they say, and too rosy in their view of immigration as an unambiguously positive force.
“For decades, the American people have been begging and pleading with our elected officials for an immigration system that’s lawful and serves the national interest,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in Austin last month. “Now we have a president who supports that.”
Bob Dane, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has pushed for many of the Trump administration’s main goals on immigration, said the president has “really scaled back this expansive view of immigration that occurred under the Obama administration.”