Posted on November 2, 2020

Donald Trump Made a Lot of Immigration and Border Promises in 2016. How Did He Deliver?

Daniel Gonzalez, and Rafael Carranza, Arizona Republic, October 25, 2020

On Aug. 31, 2016, Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, delivered a much anticipated policy speech on immigration at a packed convention center room in downtown Phoenix.


{snip} His speech portrayed both illegal and legal immigration as a threat to Americans and the nation, highlighted violent crimes committed by immigrants, and largely ignored the contributions immigrants make to the U.S.


Trump outlined a detailed 10-point plan to “fix” the nation’s immigration system through a series of promises aimed at restricting illegal and legal immigration.

Here are some of the key promises on immigration Trump made during that speech and on the 2016 campaign trail and how he delivered on them in his first term.

Border wall

President Trump partially accomplished his signature campaign promise of building a wall along the entire 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border to stop drugs and people from entering illegally, and to make Mexico pay for it.


{snip} But the barriers that have been constructed look far different than the solid wall Trump originally promised.

And U.S. taxpayers are footing the multi-billion-dollar bill, not Mexico. {snip}

As of Oct. 19, construction crews have completed installation of 371 miles of new 30-foot fencing, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the projects.

The Trump administration says 400 miles of new fencing will be completed by the end of 2020.

Most of the new taller fencing is replacing older lower fencing or vehicle barriers that were easier to climb over or under.


In reality, the Trump administration has received or redirected nearly $18 billion for border-wall construction from public coffers. During his four-year term, Congress appropriated more than $4.4 billion dollars for border-wall construction. He also redirected almost $14 billion from the Defense and Treasury departments for construction at the border.


The use of diverted military funds for border-wall construction is now headed to the Supreme Court. The justices will review whether the Trump administration is authorized to redirect funding from the Defense Department for that purpose. However, a stay in the case has allowed the federal government to continue construction, and it’s likely that contractors will complete the planned border wall projects by the time the high court decides.

Ending ‘catch and release’

Trump has had mixed results fulfilling his promise to end “catch and release,” the practice of catching immigrants who enter the country without documents and then releasing them with a notice to appear in immigration court at a later date.


Soon after Trump’s inauguration, a large wave of migrant families traveling to the U.S., mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, began to materialize, upending the administration’s plans to immediately end “catch and release.”

{snip} By the end of the 2019 fiscal year, agents had processed more than 474,000 migrants traveling as a family along the U.S.-Mexico border.


To cope with the drastic surge in arrivals, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement began releasing thousands of families apprehended at the border. {snip}


By Sept. 2019, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would end the practice of releasing Central American families into the custody of relatives in the interior of the U.S., with limited exceptions for humanitarian or medical reasons.


DHS began to immediately expel migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border under an emergency order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since March 21, when the order took effect, border agents and officers have turned back more than 204,000 migrants to their home countries or last country of transit.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA

Trump accomplished his promise to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by former President Barack Obama. The program offers temporary deportations and work permits to young undocumented immigrants raised in the U.S. who had no way to legalize their immigration status, and therefore are at risk of being deported.


In a surprise victory for Dreamers, the Supreme Court in a narrow 5-4 decision ruled in June that the Trump administration improperly ended DACA, calling the rationale “arbitrary and capricious” without addressing whether the program itself was unlawful. The Supreme Court’s ruling allowed the DACA program to continue, but gave the Trump administration the option of again trying to end it properly. {snip}

Block US funding for ‘sanctuary’ policies

Trump has tried but failed to accomplish his promise to withhold millions of dollars in federal aid to local and state jurisdictions around the country that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities through so-called “sanctuary” policies.


Several court rulings have blocked Trump’s attempt to withhold millions of dollars in federal aid to jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. {snip}


Zero tolerance for ‘criminal aliens’

Trump has partially fulfilled his promise to begin deporting on “day one” the more than 2 million immigrants he said were living in the country without authorization who had committed crimes.

Under the Trump administration, the number of immigrants removed by ICE who had been convicted of crimes or charged with crimes increased each year.

ICE removed 127,699 convicted criminals and 16,374 immigrants with pending criminal charges in fiscal year 2017. The number of ICE removals increased in fiscal year 2018 to 145,262 convicted criminals and 22,796 immigrants with pending criminal charges in fiscal year 2018. The number of ICE removals increased again in fiscal year 2019 to 150,141 convicted criminals and 23,658 immigrants with pending criminal charges. The number of ICE removals of convicted criminals and immigrants with pending criminal charges totaled 486,930 over those three fiscal years, averaging 162,310.

So ICE was on pace to remove 649,240 convicted criminals and immigrants with pending criminal charges over four years. Data for fiscal year 2020 has not yet been released. That number is far fewer than the 2 million criminals Trump promised to remove from the U.S.


Travel ban

Trump fulfilled his promise to stop issuing visas to people coming from countries he said don’t have adequate screening. Critics said the travel ban is aimed at blocking people from predominantly Muslim countries.

Two versions of Trump’s travel ban initially were blocked by the courts, but the Supreme Court has allowed a third version to stay in effect.

The ban blocks travel for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and North Korea, and political officials from Venezuela.

In February, the Trump administration expanded the travel ban to include six additional countries. {snip}

Reform legal immigration

Trump has not accomplished his promise of reforming the nation’s legal immigration system.

In May 2019, Trump unveiled legislation that would significantly revamp the current legal immigration system into a merit-based system that would mostly award green cards to immigrants based on their education and skills.


But Trump’s proposed legislation never gained traction in Congress, where it was opposed by many Democrats as overly restrictive and by some Republicans as not restrictive enough.

Trump has used his executive powers to find other ways to restrict legal immigration without the help of Congress, said Muzaffar A. Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institutes program at New York University Law School.

His administration has implemented a new “public charge rule” that makes it more difficult for some immigrants who have used public benefits in the past to receive green cards. {snip}

The Trump administration has increased vetting of people applying for  H-1B visas, which companies use to bring into the U.S. high-skilled workers from other countries, mostly India and China.


On Oct. 7, Trump signed an executive order that announced rule changes to the H-1B program that will further restrict the granting of H-1B visas. {snip}

Admitting fewer refugees

Trump accomplished his promise of admitting fewer refugees into the United States.

Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees admitted each year into the U.S. has fallen to record lows.

In fiscal year 2020, which ended Sept. 30, the U.S. admitted just 11,814 refugees, which was even lower than the 18,000 cap set by the Trump administration, and the lowest number since the modern U.S. refugee program started in 1980.