WASHINGTON President Donald Trump was to start signing directives on Wednesday to begin building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and crack down on U.S. cities that shield illegal immigrants, moving quickly on sweeping and divisive plans to curb immigration and boost national security.
The Republican president is also expected to take steps in the coming days to curb legal immigration, including executive orders restricting refugees and blocking the issuing of visas to people from several Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and North African countries including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.
In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately, and that Mexico would pay back to the United States “100 percent” of the costs.
Trump, who took office last Friday, will begin signing executive orders on Wednesday at the Department of Homeland Security, including a plan to bolster the force that polices illegal immigration.
That would include hiring 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents used to apprehend people seeking to slip across the border and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used to arrest and deport immigrants living in the United States illegally, congressional aides with knowledge of the plan said.
The administration will also seek to end the actions of “sanctuary cities,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing. In cities such as San Francisco local officials, often Democrats, refuse to cooperate with federal authorities on actions against illegal immigrants.
Trump will instruct the federal government to look at ways to stop providing certain funds to cities that refuse to comply, Spicer said.
On Twitter on Tuesday night, Trump reiterated his promise to build a wall along the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has long said that he will make Mexico pay for the wall, but Mexican officials have forcefully resisted this idea.
“We’ll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico,” Trump told ABC. “I’m just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form. What I’m doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico. We want to have a very stable, very solid Mexico.”
His plans, which he has said are necessary to protect Americans from crimes committed by illegal immigrants, prompted an immediate outcry from immigrant advocates who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people.
“The border wall is about political theatre at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.
“It is not national security policy. Border communities are among the safest in the nation and patrolling them with tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risks. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones,” Ramirez said.
Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration a key element of his presidential campaign, with supporters often chanting “build the wall” during his rallies.
The cost, nature and extent of the wall remain unclear. Trump last year put the cost at “probably $8 billion,” although other estimates are higher, and said the wall would span 1,000 miles (1,600 km) because of the terrain of the border.
Many Democrats have opposed the plan and could try to thwart any legislation to pay for the construction in the U.S. Congress, although Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Spicer said that Trump would also end the practice known by critics as “catch and release” in which authorities apprehend illegal immigrants on U.S. territory but do not immediately detain or deport them.
Trump’s actions could fundamentally change the American stance on immigration, as well as further testing relations with Mexico.
Many Americans view their country with pride as “a nation of immigrants,” and President John Kennedy wrote a book with that title more than half a century ago. But Trump successfully tapped into resentment toward the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States and said during the campaign he would deport them all.
Trump, who in announcing his presidential bid in June 2015 accused Mexico of sending rapists and criminals into the United States, has also threatened to slap hefty taxes on companies that produce in Mexico for the U.S. market and to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the Mexico, Canada and the United States.
Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are due to meet next week.
Asked about Trump’s wall, U.S. Republican Senator John McCain said a physical barrier is not enough to secure the border and called for the additional use of observation towers, drones and other technology.
“Walls can be easily breached,” McCain, whose home state of Arizona borders Mexico, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
Later in the week, Trump is expected to suspend the issuing of visas to people from countries where it is deemed that adequate screening cannot take place, pending a review to determine what screening must occur.
Trump is expected to limit the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 50,000 a year, down from 100,000, and to impose a temporary ban on most refugees.
During the campaign, Trump proposed barring non-U.S. citizen Muslims from entering the United States, which he said would protect Americans from attacks by Islamist militants like those targeting European cities. The proposal, which followed deadly attacks by Islamist militants in Paris in November 2015 and San Bernardino, California in December 2015, prompted a furore at home and abroad.
Critics say even the amended plan contradicts the American spirit.
“To use world events as an excuse to keep people from coming to the United States who are literally fleeing for their lives disrespects the history of this country,” said David Leopold, an immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)