CHICAGO (WLS) --President Donald Trump moved aggressively to tighten the nation's immigration controls Wednesday, signing executive actions to jumpstart construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and block federal grants from immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities."
"Beginning today the United States of America gets back control of its borders," Trump declared during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security. "We are going to save lives on both sides of the border."
Trump cast his actions as fulfillment of a campaign pledge to enact hard-line immigration measures, including construction of a wall paid for by Mexico. With the families of Americans killed by people living in the U.S. illegally sitting in the audience, Trump said, "When it comes to public safety, there is no place for politics."
The president's words were still ringing in the ears of Bladimir Caballero and his family.
"I feel like I'm going back, like in a deep hole, just sinking, sinking. But what my mind's telling me, I should just keep on fighting," he said.
Caballero is 17-years-old, a high school junior and an undocumented immigrant. He was brought to the U.S. as an infant by his mother, who is also undocumented. But his stepfather is a U.S. citizen and so is his sister. The family is worried about Trump's pledge to step up deportations.
"We're going to go wherever we can together, and it could just ruin our education or it could just kill us as a family," Caballero said.
"We are America. Todos somos America. We are America," his mother, Doris Aguirre, asserted.
The president's order sets new criteria for how Homeland Security prioritizes deportations, targeting not just undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes but also those simply charged, as well as people abusing public benefits and those deemed by an immigration officer to be "a risk to public safety or national security."
"He went really big and took some major steps in restoring the integrity of our immigration system," said Jessica Vaughan of non-profit research organization Center for Immigration Studies.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News' David Muir, Trump sought assuage fears.
"They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody," he said.
Trump's order to crack down on sanctuary cities - locales that don't cooperate with immigration authorities - could cost individual jurisdictions millions of dollars. But the administration may face legal challenges, given that some federal courts have found that local jurisdictions cannot hold immigrants beyond their jail term or deny them bond based only a request from immigration authorities.
The president's words are still ringing in the ears of Bladimir Caballero and his family.
A calm but defiant Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Chicago will remain a sanctuary city, regardless of Trump's order directing the government to withhold federal money from cities that protect the nation's undocumented immigrants from deportation.
"There is no stranger among us. We welcome people whether you're from Poland or Pakistan, whether you're from Ireland or India or Israel, or whether you're from Mexico or Moldovia, where my grandfather came from. You are welcome in Chicago," Emanuel said.
Chicago Alderman Danny Solis (Ward 25) co-sponsored a bill Wednesday during City Council to keep Chicago a sanctuary city. Solis said he is willing to risk losing the federal funding the city receives which is estimated to be nearly $1.6 billion in 2017.
"I think all the cities, Los Angeles, New York, and every other city that's a sanctuary city have to stay strong and hold our own and fight back," Solis said.
Trump's actions on immigration, the border wall and restricting the entrance of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and Assad regime taps into the racism and xenophobia that propelled him into the White House, according to Congressman Luis Gutierrez (IL-4).
"It's a feast for his voters. The ones he said, 'Fear the Muslims. Fear the Mexicans. Fear the foreigners. They're coming to destroy America,'" Gutierrez said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) issued a statement saying in part, "Chicago is proud of our status as a sanctuary city. By recognizing the value and dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters, our city is keeping the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty - that our country welcomes 'the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to be free.' The President's nativist, anti-immigrant agenda contradicts our nation's founding principles, and will endanger families and communities across the country."
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin also released a statement saying in part, "After railing against the use of executive power, President Trump is bypassing Congress to push his extreme anti-immigrant agenda. Americans deserve a real fix to our broken immigration system that strengthens border security, protects workers, and treats immigrants fairly. Building a wall on our border and fear in our hearts will not move this nation forward."
Representatives of various immigrant communities duly condemned the president's actions.
"They make us targets of government policy and of racist hate crimes," said Hatem Abudayyeh, Arab American Action Network.
HOW WILL TRUMP PAY FOR THE BORDER WALL?
Funding for the border wall project is murky. While Trump has repeatedly promised that Mexico will pay for it, U.S. taxpayers are expected to cover the initial costs and the new administration has said nothing about how it will compel Mexico to reimburse the money. One of the executive actions Trump signed Wednesday appears to signal that he could restrict aid to Mexico.
In an interview with ABC News earlier Wednesday, Trump said, "There will be a payment; it will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form."
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has insisted his country will not pay for a wall, is expected to meet with Trump at the White House next week, despite calls from some lawmakers for him to cancel his visit.
Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, an outspoken critic of Trump, tweeted to the president's press secretary Sean Spicer, "I've said this to Donald Trump and now I'll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that [expletive] wall."
Some Mexican politicians are calling on current Nieto to cancel his trip.
Congressional aides say there is about $100 million of unspent appropriations in the Department of Homeland Security account for border security, fencing and infrastructure. That would allow planning efforts to get started, but far more money would have to be appropriated for when construction got underway.
Trump has insisted many times the border structure will be a wall. The order he signed referred to "a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier."
The president's orders also call for hiring 5,000 additional border patrol agents, though the increase is subject to congressional approval. He also moved to end what Republicans have labeled a catch-and-release system at the border. Currently, some immigrants caught crossing the border illegally are released and given notices to report back to immigration officials at a later date.
To build the wall, the president is relying on a 2006 law that authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile frontier. That bill led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians.
The Secure Fence Act was signed by then-President George W. Bush, and the majority of that fencing in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California was built before he left office. The last remnants were completed after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
The Trump administration also must adhere to a decades-old border treaty with Mexico that limits where and how structures can be built. The 1970 treaty requires that structures cannot disrupt the flow of the rivers, which define the U.S.-Mexico border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona, according to The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint U.S.-Mexican agency that administers the treaty.
Later in the week, Trump is expected to sign orders restricting the flow of refugees into the United States. His current proposal includes at least a four-month halt on all refugee admissions, as well as a temporary ban on people coming from some Muslim-majority countries, according to a source from a public policy organization that monitors refugee issues. The person was briefed on the details of that proposed action by a government official and outlined the plan to The Associated Press.
The public policy organization source insisted on anonymity in order to outline the plans ahead of the president's official announcements.
It appeared as though the refugee restrictions were still being finalized. The person briefed on the proposals said they included a ban on entry to the U.S. for at least 30 days from countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, though the person cautioned the details could still change.
There is also likely to be an exception for those fleeing religious persecution if their religion is a minority in their country. That exception could cover Christians fleeing Muslim-majority nations.
As president, Trump can use an executive order to halt refugee processing. Bush used that same power in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Refugee security vetting was reviewed and the process was restarted several months later.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.