Posted on April 6, 2020

Trump’s Second Term Immigration Agenda

Gaby Del Valle, Washington Monthly, April/May/June 2020


{snip} The administration has spent billions of dollars replacing chain link fences along the border with  100 miles of steel barriers, with new barriers under construction. He has banned nationals of certain Muslim-majority countries from obtaining visas. The U.S. still takes in refugees, but admissions have hit an all-time low: The resettlement cap for the 2020 fiscal year was just 18,000, a 79 percent drop from Barack Obama’s last year in office. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has carried out massive raids and opened more than a dozen new immigrant detention facilities. {snip}

Unable to pass major immigration legislation, the administration has accomplished all of this through executive action, spurring lawsuits from activists. Sometimes, the litigation has been a success. In 2019, a federal judge blocked a Trump executive order that would have barred immigration by those who could not quickly purchase U.S. health insurance, ruling that it was beyond the president’s powers. Several district court judges issued an injunction against the wall, arguing that Trump was unconstitutionally violating the will of Congress.


Should Trump win a second term, he will likely nominate at least one additional Supreme Court justice and add to the nearly 200 federal judges he has appointed so far (a quarter of all federal judges). The legal firewall that has held back the most radical of his executive orders could crumble. {snip}


The president’s war on immigration is being waged on two fronts: at the border and in the interior. In both domains, he’s just getting started. In late 2019, the president created two pilot programs—the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP)—that fast-track asylum cases for Mexican and Central American migrants at the southern border. Although the ACLU and other organizations have sued the administration over these programs, which they say deny migrants a fair day in court, it’s likely they’ll be expanded further if Trump is reelected, even before courts decide their legality.

The expansion of PACR and HARP could echo the administration’s rollout of the Remain in Mexico policy, which began as a pilot program at a single port of entry in California in January 2019. It has since been expanded along the entire border, forcing roughly 60,000 migrants to wait in Mexico while an immigration judge in the United States decides their case. Originally, the policy was only applied to migrants from Spanish-speaking countries. But in January, the administration began sending Brazilian nationals seeking asylum to Mexico.

If Trump is reelected, it’s only a matter of time before the administration decides to further expand this program too. It may start with Indian nationals: According to federal data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute, 72 percent of all extra-continental migrants apprehended at the border during the fiscal 2018 hailed from India. Migrants from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Eritrea—the most prevalent African nationalities at the border, according to the same data—could be added to the administration’s list as well.

During a second term, it is also likely that Trump would expand the border wall. With the blessing of the Supreme Court, the administration already reallocated nearly $10 billion in military funds to pay for construction of the wall. The administration diverted another $3.8 billion in funds from the Pentagon in February. Unless legislators explicitly forbid the administration from reprogramming funds, Trump will likely continue to use military money to fortify the border during his second term.


{snip} The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. If the Court lets the program end, Trump may go to Democrats in Congress and promise protection for Dreamers, but only in exchange for broader immigration cuts. The party shut down the government for several days in January 2018 to try to make sure Dreamers wouldn’t be deported, and failed. Though the party’s progressive wing would likely refuse to fall in line, it isn’t hard to imagine that to protect them, come 2021, Democrats would give Trump what he wants.