Michael Bowman – VOA
U.S. lawmakers are bracing for thunderous and emotion-laden battles next year over President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration to the United States.
“It’s going to be extremely contentious,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told VOA. “Anytime you get into an immigration battle, it’s difficult no matter who is president.”
Asked to what lengths Democrats were prepared to go to oppose Trump’s immigration plans, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut had a succinct response.
“We’ll stop at nothing to prevent the mass-deportation of undocumented residents and a wall being built with Mexico,” Murphy told VOA.
Trump’s transition website features a 10-point plan, from constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, to punishing communities that shield undocumented immigrants, to restricting travel to the United States from certain war-torn regions where screening visa applicants is a challenge.
“The most important thing for the Trump administration is to regain the public’s confidence in the security of our borders and our commitment to enforce the law,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. “And I think we’ve got a long way to go.”
President Barack Obama issued executive orders that shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from potential deportation. Trump has pledged to rescind those orders when he becomes president and could issue new ones that take federal immigration policy in the opposite direction.
Advocacy groups that cheered Obama’s immigration orders are pledging to fight tooth and nail against what they fear will be an onslaught of heavy-handed moves by Trump.
“Definitely protests, definitely civil disobedience,” predicted Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the pro-immigrant rights group America’s Voice. “If they [Republicans] want to start mass-deportations, we’re coming after them.”
Tramonte added that America’s Voice will join with other groups to mount “every legal challenge possible to undercut what Trump does” through executive orders.
But Republican lawmakers note that as president, Trump will have vast executive authority that, ironically, Obama sought to broaden over the objections of Republicans.
“He’s the new president,” Hatch said. “Once he’s sworn in, he has the immense powers of the presidency to correct ills or wrongs that were done by the prior president.
“Once these precedents go beyond where they should have gone, it can become very dangerous,” the Utah senator added.
“Yes, Donald Trump does have wide latitude [to issue executive orders],” Tramonte conceded. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to sit back and let him terrorize our communities.”
So far, Trump’s immigration proposals amount to bullet-point agenda items and a vast array of promises made in campaign speeches. As such, senators of both parties told VOA they cannot fully analyze what the president-elect intends to do or how much it would cost.
“I don’t know enough about each of the 10 points [on Trump’s immigration agenda] to know what breaks down legislatively and administratively,” said Oklahoma Republican James Lankford.
“What I know is what he said during the campaign,” Democrat Murphy said. “But we still have yet to see his proposals.”
Groups favoring more restrictive immigration policies expect Trump to implement most, if not all, of his proposed ideas in one form or another.
“Most of it can be accomplished, a lot of it through his own authority [as president],” said Steven Camarota of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “I think there will be pushback everywhere. America’s a very litigious society.”
Trump will benefit from having Republican majorities in both houses of Congress to help propel immigration proposals that require legislative approval, as well as funding for various initiatives.
Camarota says the president-elect should not, however, expect a blank check from Congress.
“They [Republican majorities] can be very important. But remember that President Obama had [Democratic] majorities for two years, and he still found things challenging to get through [Congress].”