THE MORNING PLUM:

Ever since Donald Trump won the presidency, one of the big questions has been this: How far will Trump actually go in realizing his most draconian immigration promises? How ugly are the rhetorical promises embedded in Trumpism — in the xenophobia, the bigotry, the explicit threats to persecute minorities — going to get in reality?

Today, we’re getting the beginnings of an answer: Trump is set to unveil a series of executive orders on immigration. He is moving forward with a wall on the Mexican border and perhaps also with temporary bans on Syrian refugees and immigrants from select Muslim countries from entering the country. The Post reports:

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President Trump plans to sign executive orders Wednesday enabling construction of his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and targeting cities where local leaders refuse to hand over illegal immigrants for deportation, according to White House officials familiar with the decisions. …
Officials are considering, but have not decided yet, whether to indefinitely shut down the program that allows refugees from war-torn Syria into the United States. Trump may also put the entire refugee program for all countries on hold for four months, according to an administration official familiar with the options under discussion.
This official said that Trump will also potentially bar for 30 days the issuance of U.S. visas to people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries — until new visa procedures are developed. Residents from many of these places are already rarely granted U.S. visas. Trump may ask DHS and the director of National Intelligence to evaluate whether immigrants are being adequately screened for potential terrorist ties.

For now, we are going to focus on those latter two proposals — the ones involving Syrian refugees and visas from Muslim-majority countries. The wall on the southern border sucks up a lot of attention. It has tremendous symbolic importance to his supporters. It generally signals to them that he will make good on his overarching vow to slam the brakes on large forces that have left them culturally, demographically, and economically destabilized, such as globalization, trade and immigration flows. And as Dara Lind has detailed, the wall will have many negative consequences. But just as important are the big coming fights over the true scope of Trump’s deportation plans and his intentions toward immigration from Muslim countries. And this week we’re seeing new movement on that last front, too.

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The big unknown about Trump’s coming announcements is how far they will end up going in the future. During the campaign Trump explicitly proposed policies that would persecute Muslims, such as a Muslim registry and a ban on Muslims from entering the United States. He has since tweaked both of those by targeting them toward countries with an active terror presence. It’s unclear what’s happening with the registry, but now we know that he’s seriously considering the first steps toward some kind of ban on entry until “extreme vetting” procedures can be implemented. We also know that he’s using the specter of terrorism as a pretext to do it. As Trump tweeted last night, these will be framed as “national security” announcements.

In other words, we will now start to see Trump’s xenophobic exploitation of fears of terrorism fleshed out in concrete proposals. It’s been widely established that despite Trump’s claims otherwise, there is already an extensive vetting process in place for Syrian refugees. A ban on them is worrying enough. But the ban on visas from select countries may also portend something worse down the road.

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David Leopold, an immigration attorney, tells me that the key problem is that Trump is signaling a short-term restriction on legal immigration that could easily be expanded. As Leopold notes, during the George W. Bush years, a registry was implemented that started with only a few countries, but then its target list rapidly expanded to include two dozen countries, mostly Muslim-majority ones.

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“What’s alarming is that this could happen again with Trump’s ban,” Leopold told me. “If he does it for these seven countries, he might try to expand it. Then we get into a much broader cut-off of legal immigration into the United States. And if you broaden it out to predominantly Muslim countries, effectively what he’s doing is banning Muslims. This would mean that Trump really meant what he said with his extremist campaign rhetoric.”

Now, in fairness, we do not know that this will happen. One possibility is that Trump is making aggressive-sounding gestures on these fronts to satisfy hard-liners, because he knows he’s going to punt on his promises regarding deportations. He is already reconsidering the vow to roll back protections for young people brought here as children. And his promise of stepped-up deportations is likely to collide with practical and political realities that will constrain him into handling enforcement similarly to President Barack Obama, who prioritized the removal of criminals first. So perhaps Trump will make a lot of noise about a temporary ban on refugees and immigration from select countries, then implement “new, tougher” vetting procedures that allow him to lift it.

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But it is not out of the realm of possibility that Trump is taking the first steps toward what could, in effect, amount to a broad temporary Muslim ban. Imagine, for instance, how much more tempting this might look to Trump if there is a terror attack on U.S. soil.

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* TRUMP APPEARS TO BE CONTINUING DACA: Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reports that the Trump administration is continuing to grant work permits to people brought here illegally as children who qualify for Obama’s executive action protecting them:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday…that it has continued to issue new work permits since Trump’s inauguration. The agency said it is still processing applications, as the Obama policy remains unchanged….It’s more evidence Trump may be softening his stance on…DREAMers.

The Trump administration has now revealed its reluctance to scrap DACA. But how to resolve this remains a tough problem, particularly since, as Kapur reports, hard-liners are crying betrayal.

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* LIBERAL GROUPS PLAN SCRUTINY OF JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: The New York Times reports that civil liberties groups are opening fire on the decision by Trump’s Justice Department to inexplicably seek delays in its Obama-era efforts to reform the Baltimore Police Department and challenge a Texas voter ID law.

The Times notes that this signals the “intense scrutiny that liberal groups plan to bring to the Justice Department’s civil rights division,” which will obviously have very different priorities under Trump. The delay in the Texas case is a sign that the department, under Jeff Sessions, may participate in a much broader national assault on voting rights.

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* TRUMP CALLS FOR ‘MAJOR INVESTIGATION’ INTO ‘VOTER FRAUD’: And right on cue, Trump announced today that he wants a “major investigation into voter fraud,” including dead people voting. So real national-level efforts to restrict voting rights now look like a legitimate possibility.

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* LEFTY GROUPS BLAST TRUMP TREASURY PICK: A trio of progressive groups is going up on the air with a powerful ad hitting Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, with a tale of a woman who lost her home to foreclosure by a bank he owned.

Interestingly, the spot — from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Allied Progress Action and Demand Progress Action — is targeting a number of Democratic senators (Michael Bennet, Chris Coons, Tom Carper and Mark Warner) along with GOP senators. It’s another sign the left is trying to pressure Democrats not to fall in line behind Trump’s nominees.

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* QUOTE OF THE DAY, ‘ALTERNATIVE FACTS’ EDITION: Kellyanne Conway recently said the Trump White House offers “alternative facts.” On Fox News last night, Sean Spicer, er, clarified what she meant:

“Sometimes you can watch two different stations and get two different weather reports. That doesn’t mean that the station was lying to you.”

This is best understood as a flat-out statement of doctrine guiding how the Trump White House will treat not just the media, but factual reality itself.

* THE TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY, SEND-IN-THE-FEDS EDITION: And away we go:

Surely White House press secretary Sean Spicer will offer useful clarification at today’s press briefing on what Trump’s precise intentions are here.

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