President Donald Trump has ordered construction of a US-Mexican border wall and is expected to pause the flow of refugees to America as he launched broad but divisive plans to reshape US immigration and national security policy.
A draft executive order seen by Reuters that Trump is expected to sign in the coming days would block the entry of refugees from war-torn Syria and suspend the entry of any immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and African countries Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen while permanent rules are studied.
Less than a week into his presidency, Trump has moved aggressively to put his stamp on a range of policies, including steps to gut the healthcare system devised by his predecessor, and make clear that as president he is not turning toward more moderate positions than he took as a candidate.
His directives on Wednesday signaled a tough action toward the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already in the US, most from Latin America, whom he already has threatened to deport.
In a move critics called a slight to the integrity of American democracy, Trump also said on Wednesday he would seek a "major investigation" into what he believes was voter fraud in the November election, despite overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts and politicians that it is rare in the United States.
"We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States," Trump told an audience that included relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants at the Department of Homeland Security after signing two executive orders.
The directives ordered the construction of a multibillion-dollar wall along the roughly 3,200-km US-Mexico border, moved to strip federal funding from "sanctuary" states and cities that harbour illegal immigrants, and expanded the force of American immigration agents.
His plans prompted an outcry from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said Trump was jeopardising the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally, and soiling America's historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes.
"The border wall is about political theatre at the expense of civil liberties," said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.
The White House said the wall would stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration into the United States.
"We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central America is harming both Mexico and the United States," Trump said, adding: "A nation without borders is not a nation."
Trump is also expected to order a review that could lead to bringing back a CIA program for holding terrorism suspects in secret overseas "black site" prisons where interrogation techniques often condemned as torture were used during former Republican President George W. Bush's administration, two US officials said.
In the ABC News interview, Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately, and that Mexico would pay back to the United States "100 per cent" of the costs. Mexican officials have said they will not pay for the wall.
The draft directive on immigration also suspends the US refugee program for four months while determining whether permanent changes to the system are needed.