Posted on January 14, 2021

Trump’s Final Push on Immigration

Claire Hansen, U.S. News, January 12, 2021

OUTGOING PRESIDENT Donald Trump plans to visit the southwest border Tuesday to tout the construction of hundreds of miles of his border wall and boast about the government’s actions on immigration – a policy area the president and his administration have treated with near-singular focus since the day he took office.

The last couple months have proved no different. The administration has pushed to finalize a slate of immigration changes since the election in an eleventh-hour effort to impose more restrictions before President-elect Joe Biden assumes the presidency on Jan. 20 – despite the fact that Biden has pledged to eventually roll back many of Trump’s immigration policies.

The recent regulations will be among the last of more than 400 Trump-era policy changes largely limiting legal and illegal immigration and gutting the U.S. asylum system. Beyond the impact on immigrants, the new regulations could be a major headache for the incoming Biden administration, serving to only further complicate efforts to reverse Trump’s immigration agenda – an already-formidable challenge given the breadth and scope of the Trump administration’s actions over the last four years.

But the job of the Biden White House was likely made easier last week after Democrats won control of the Senate following a pair of victories in run-off elections in Georgia.

A Democratic-controlled Congress could easily and relatively quickly quash several of the recent immigration policies using an oversight law called the Congressional Review Act, which effectively allows lawmakers to nullify regulations within 60 congressional working days of a policy being reported to Congress as long as the president is on board.

Some, but not all, of the most significant policy moves made by the Trump administration in recent weeks could be thrown out by Congress using the oversight tool, dashing the efforts and saving Biden’s team from, in some cases, going through the arduous rule-making process.

The Trump administration finalized three major asylum regulations in December alone, each of which imposes sweeping restrictions on who is eligible for asylum in the U.S.


One of the regulations, dubbed by advocates and policy experts as the “death to asylum” rule, fundamentally alters the current asylum system, creating a near-total ban on asylum protections for large groups of people, including those fleeing gender-based violence or gang-violence. It effectively bars migrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada from asylum eligibility, as well as immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than a year. And it allows officials to dismiss asylum-seekers’ applications as “frivolous” without a hearing, among other changes.


On Dec. 16, the administration finalized a rule to once again deny migrants asylum if they passed through another country before coming to the U.S. and did not seek asylum in that country first, effectively rendering ineligible all non-Mexican and non-Canadian asylum-seekers. It will take effect Jan. 19.

The administration also finalized a separate asylum rule Dec. 23 expanding the government’s ability to deny people asylum on public health grounds. The rule classifies migrants coming from countries with outbreaks of infectious diseases – such as the coronavirus – as threats to national security. That rule is set to go into effect on Jan. 22.


But it’s not just asylum. The administration has enacted several major changes to legal immigration.

DHS last week finalized a rule that would change the way H-1B work visas are allocated from a random lottery to a system that prioritizes higher-wage workers. {snip}

The Trump administration in November announced major changes to the test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens, making the exam harder and twice as long as the previous one. {snip}

Trump’s Justice Department also recently finalized major increases to the fees for certain immigration court appeals and applications, which are set to take effect a day before Biden is inaugurated.


Amid the policy changes, the administration rushed to complete Trump’s stated goal of 450 miles of new wall along the southern border before the end of 2020. {snip}