WASHINGTON - President Trump signed an executive action Wednesday to begin planning for a border wall with Mexico and vowed that construction on the project would begin in months.
He also reiterated his vow that American taxpayers would be reimbursed by the Mexican government for the costs of the wall.
"As soon as we can physically do it," Trump said in an interview with ABC News, when asked when construction would begin. "I would say in months … Certainly planning is starting immediately."
Trump's remarks came on a day in which he visited the Department of Homeland Security and signed two executive orders on immigration. The orders aim to ramp up immigration enforcement by adding more detention centers and stripping federal grant money for cities that do not comply with federal immigration laws, aides said.
The construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border was Trump's chief campaign promise as he blamed illegal immigration for constricting the U.S. job market for Americans and adding to national security concerns.
"Building a barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it's common sense, the first step to really securing our porous border," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday. "Federal agencies are going to unapologetically enforce the law - no ifs, ands or buts."
Trump said from the beginning of his campaign that Mexico will pay for the wall, but Mexican leaders have balked, and Trump has said the project will start with U.S. tax dollars to begin construction quickly.
Construction industry analysts have said the project could cost up to $20 billion. Trump is scheduled to welcome Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House next week.
"We'll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico," Trump said in the television interview. "I'm just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form."
White House officials said Trump's appearance at DHS is meant as the first step in a rollout of a series of executive actions to begin fulfilling his campaign promises on immigration. It also is likely to spark severe resistance from the immigrant rights community, which has accused the president of hyperbole to whip up fear in the electorate at the expense of immigrants and refugees.
"The hateful, zenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that was a hallmark of the Trump campaign is starting to become a reality," Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said on conference call with reporters. "Chaos and destruction will be the outcome."
Spicer said the executive actions would include directives to the Department of Homeland Security to examine ways to limit federal funding to "sanctuary cities" that do not report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. And he said the Trump administration would resume the Secure Communities program that granted greater immigration enforcement powers to local authorities - a program that was shut down by the Obama administration over concerns it had led to abuse.
Spicer said Trump will not on Wednesday sign any orders overturning the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed more than 700,000 younger immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to apply for two-year work visas.
Trump has promised to overturn DACA, which has been enormously popular among the immigrant rights community.
"The president understands the magnitude of this problem," Spicer said of DACA. "He's a family man. He has a huge heart."
Trump will work through it "in a very humane way," the spokesman added.