On Tuesday, Vox was given six documents that purported to be draft executive orders under consideration by the Trump administration. The source noted that “all of these documents are still going through formal review” in the Executive Office of the President and “have not yet been cleared by [the Department of Justice or the Office of Legal Counsel].”
We were not, at the time, able to verify the authenticity of the documents and did not feel it would be reasonable to publish or report on them.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Trump signed two executive orders on immigration that word-for-word matched the drafts we’d received. Given that our source had early access to two documents that were proven accurate, and that all the orders closely align with Trump’s stated policies on the campaign trail, we are reporting on the remaining four.
The source cautioned that “there are substantive comments on several of these drafts from multiple elements of NSC staff” and “if previous processes remain the norm, there [are] likely to be some substantive revisions.” It is possible these orders will emerge with substantial changes, or even be scrapped altogether.
We sent the White House PDFs of the documents and left voicemails with aides, but did not receive a response.
The two orders released today by the Trump administration, and delivered yesterday by our source, start the process of building President Trump's famous "wall," and make it easier for immigration agents to arrest, detain, and deport unauthorized immigrants at the border and in the US. Those policies are explained in detail here.
The four remaining draft orders obtained by Vox focus on immigration, terrorism, and refugee policy. They wouldn't ban all Muslim immigration to the US, breaking a Trump promise from early in his campaign, but they would temporarily ban entries from seven majority-Muslim countries and bar all refugees from coming to the US for several months. They would make it harder for immigrants to come to the US to work, make it easier to deport them if they use public services, and put an end to the Obama administration program that protected young "DREAMer" immigrants from deportation.
In all, the combined documents would represent one of the harshest crackdowns on immigrants — both those here and those who want to come here — in memory.
The “Muslim ban”: “Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals”
The draft executive order limiting immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries, formally titled, "Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals," suspends entry into the United States from selected countries starting 30 days after the executive order's issuance.
On the campaign trail, Trump made comments about banning Muslims from the United States. This order is reminiscent of that promise but falls far short of it, as most Muslim-majority countries, including the most populous ones (Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan), are not included on the list of barred countries.
The countries in question are those included in the State Department's list of terrorism-sponsoring countries (Iran, Sudan, and Syria), those designated by the Department of Homeland Security as countries of concern (Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), and Iraq, which is specially designated in the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, the law from which the executive order gets its list of barred countries. (Syria is specially designated too, but it’s already banned due to the terrorism list.)
That law simply limited travel from countries whose residents normally don't need a visa to visit the US (which tend to be rich countries like the UK, France, and Germany) if they had previously traveled to a country of concern, like Iran or Yemen or Iraq. Trump's executive order uses that list and bars all immigration from those countries outright.
As this ban is being implemented, the secretary of homeland security, along with the secretary of state and director of national intelligence, is instructed to evaluate which countries do and don't provide enough information about visa applicants for the US to vet them for terrorism risk. Any countries that don't provide enough information, according to the secretary of homeland security, will be given 60 days to start doing so. After those 60 days, the secretary of homeland security will provide to the president a list of any countries still judged to not be providing enough information. The president will then issue a proclamation prohibiting nationals of those countries from entering the United States. This list will replace the one based on the 2015 law.
The order also suspends all refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days, as the secretary of state reviews refugee application procedures to ensure they guarantee no admitted refugees jeopardize national security. All refugee applications will be placed on hold for this 120-day period, and resumed once the secretary has issued revised procedures — except for applications from members of “religious minorities” who are being persecuted (which, in practice, will probably mean Christians in the Middle East).
Refugees will continue to be barred from countries that don't have adequate safeguards, as determined by the secretaries of state and homeland security and the director of national intelligence. Refugee claims "on the basis of religious-based persecution" will be given priority, and all admissions of Syrian refugees will be suspended until President Trump determines they can begin again. The total number of refugees allowed in fiscal year 2017 will be reduced from 110,000 to 50,000, and preference will continue to go to “religious minorities.”
The order instructs the secretary of state to provide "safe areas" in Syria and surrounding areas where Syrian nationals who have been displaced can reside. It also instructs the secretary of homeland security to speed implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system. Finally, the order instructs the secretary of state to "immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program," and requires interviews of all non-immigrant visa seekers.
DREAMer program: “Ending unconstitutional executive amnesties”
Another apparent order draft, titled “Ending unconstitutional executive amnesties,” would end a major Obama program that has effectively protected more than 740,000 unauthorized immigrants from deportation since 2012.
This program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — was aimed at people who came to the US when they were younger than 16 years old, who either had pursued or were pursuing education and had no felony convictions, among other conditions. It let them get temporary protection from deportation and permits to work in the US.
But the order would end the DACA program. Now, it says that work permits already issued under the program will remain valid. However, these permits are all already set to expire at some point in the next two years, and once they expire, they will not be renewed, according to the order. Starting very soon, a trickle of immigrants would start to lose their DACA protections — and by January 2019, barring a policy reversal or an act of Congress, all of them would.
Even while still protected by DACA, the order says, the government will not grant them “advance parole.” That means that should they leave the country, they would not be allowed to return.
Finally, this draft order would also put the nail in the coffin of Obama’s 2014 attempt to extend that program to cover a broader group of unauthorized immigrants — DAPA — which had already been blocked in court. All in all, if implemented, the order would roll back President Obama’s most significant legacy on immigration.
Limiting legal immigration: “Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs”
A sweeping proposed order would, essentially, operate across a number of channels to reduce the scope of legal immigration to the United States. It also begins to lay the administrative and policy groundwork for further legislation altering the scope of legal immigration into one that, in the words of the cover memo, “prioritizes the interests of American workers and — to the maximum degree possible — the jobs, wages, and well-being of those workers.”
The order itself contains a variety of provisions. One would reverse Obama’s extension of the duration of Optional Practical Training work visas and decision to allow the spouses of H-1B guest workers to also have work permits. Another would undo relief Obama has granted to people eligible for green cards but unable to apply for them due to what’s known as the “three- and ten-year bars.”
Another provision calls on the Department of Homeland Security to begin “site visits” at places that employ guest workers with L-1 visas and then to expand the site-visit program to cover all employment-based visa programs within two years.
Other provisions are less clear in their impact. The order directs the secretary of homeland security to promulgate a regulation that would “restore the integrity of employment-based nonimmigrant worker programs” and to “consider ways” to alter the H-1B program (for technical guest workers) to be “more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest.” The H-1B program, which is often used by outsourcing firms, has come under recent criticism from both Trumpist Republicans and pro-labor Democrats, and the Trump administration is reportedly looking at another way to determine which of the hundreds of thousands of H-1B applicants get visas (instead of the current lottery system).
Another directs DHS to “improve monitoring of foreign students” and to “reform practical training programs for foreign students to prevent the disadvantaging of US students in the workforce.” Another calls for the promulgation of a new regulation to “clarify comprehensively” that people on tourist visas may not perform skilled or unskilled labor. Another directs the secretary of state to “reform the J-1 Summer Work Travel program to improve protections of US workers.”
Another provision calls on DHS to do what it can to incentivize more employers to participate in the E-Verify system.
Last but by no means least, the order attempts to build momentum toward a larger revision of American immigration policy. It calls on the secretary of labor to commission a report investigating “the extent of any injury to US workers” caused by the employment of foreign workers, and on DHS to report regularly on the number of foreigners working in the United States and to “immediately restart work on regular benefit fraud assessments for all immigration benefits categories.”
Limiting social services: “Protecting Taxpayer Resources by Ensuring Our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability and Responsibility”
Libertarians sometimes suggest “building a wall around the welfare state” instead of the country — restricting access to public benefits to US citizens. This executive order proposes that President Trump, who’s already building a wall around the country, build one around the welfare state as well.
Legal immigrants currently get access to some public benefits in some circumstances. But the federal government can bar someone from coming to the US, or from becoming a permanent resident, if there’s any evidence he or she will become a “public charge.”
Currently, the federal government looks at use of cash benefits (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) when it’s making “public charge” decisions, but not in-kind benefits like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This executive action, though, would ask the Department of Homeland Security to issue a rule saying that an immigrant can’t be admitted to the US if he’s likely to get any benefit “determined in any way on the basis of income, resources, or financial need.” Furthermore, people who use any of those benefits and are in the US on visas would be subject to deportation.
The order would require the person who sponsored an immigrant into the US to reimburse the federal government for any benefits the immigrant used. It would direct the government to publish regular reports on the benefits used by immigrants in the US — and how that money could be “reinvested” in the inner cities, something Trump proposed as a candidate.
One of the reports requested in the order would be a report on the cost of the entire Refugee Assistance Program — the program by which the US helps refugees get settled, obtain jobs, and learn English. Refugees are responsible for much of immigrant welfare use in the US, because they’re not selected for their high earning potential — they’re selected because of their humanitarian need. But consistent with the forthcoming order restricting refugee admissions entirely, this memo sees refugees as a drain on the public coffers.
Unauthorized immigrants aren’t spared by the order: It would prevent families from getting the child tax credit if the parents are unauthorized (even if the children are US citizens), and it would prevent an unauthorized immigrant from being eligible for Social Security during the time he was unauthorized (even if he was paying into the system, as many do, using a fake Social Security number). But for the most part, this order doesn’t crack down on unauthorized immigrants to protect legal immigrants; it cracks down on immigrants, and their US citizen children, for the sake of the native-born.
—Dylan Matthews, Andrew Prokop, Dara Lind, and Sarah Kliff contributed to this report.