Posted on December 1, 2020

Behind Trump’s Final Push to Limit Immigration

Anita Kumar, Politico, November 30, 2020

Donald Trump is not done with immigration yet.

Since Election Day, the president’s staffers have pushed through changes that make it easier to deny visas to immigrants, lengthened the citizenship test and appointed new members to an immigration policy board.

Some aides even urged Trump to sign an executive order attempting to end birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants, said two people familiar with the discussions — a legally dubious tactic given that birthright citizenship is enshrined in the Constitution. A third person said the idea had recently been dismissed.

The moves amount to an 11th-hour attempt to solidify the Trump administration’s legacy on immigration, which started with a sweeping ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries, swerved into scandal over family separation at the border and solidified with severe reductions on refugees and temporary foreign workers. Now, the focus is on putting a bind on President-elect Joe Biden, making it harder for him to reverse these politically fraught issues, according to half a dozen people familiar with the changes.

“What they’re doing through the transition is working their way down their list of items to minimize immigration to the U.S.,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group. “The Trump administration has been widely effective in terms of grinding our immigration system to a halt.”


{snip} The administration’s push on immigration is attributed to Stephen Miller, the senior aide who has largely guided the president’s policies on the issue for four years, according to people on both sides of the debate.


The flurry of recent immigration changes — primarily made thorough rules, regulations and administration policy — cap nearly four years of reductions in legal and illegal immigration to the United States.

Trump denied visas to citizens of several majority-Muslim nations. He erected more than 400 miles of a 30-feet steel wall along the southern border, much of it a sturdier replacement of what was already there. He sharply limited the granting of asylum claims. And, this year, he used the coronavirus outbreak to slash the number of foreign workers in the U.S. and essentially close the southern border to migrants.


Trump made immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, as well as the 2018 midterm elections. But in 2020, he talked less about the issue, in large part because the election was overtaken by the pandemic, which has killed over 265,000 Americans and decimated the economy.

Biden has vowed to undo Trump’s immigration policies and push Congress to craft an immigration deal. The task won’t be simple. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to enact major overhauls to the immigration system. And any executive action or new law is expected to face legal challenges

And the matter is being complicated further by the Trump administration’s final push to adopt new immigration measures.


On Nov. 13, the administration announced that starting next month, the citizenship test would include more questions about American history and politics. The revised questionnaire, which received some criticism, will increase from 100 to 128 questions.

Four days later, the administration said it would also give federal officials more discretion in approving an immigration application through updates to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Manual. The changes will provide officers with an expanded list of positive and negative factors they can use to either accept or reject applicants. {snip}

That same day, the administration published a proposed rule that would limit work permits for immigrants awaiting deportation but not in custody.


The administration is also trying to push through some even more restrictions to the H-1B high-skilled worker visa program, which it says U.S. employers are abusing to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor.