Donald Trump will be America’s president starting January 20, 2017. Given Trump’s campaign statements about immigration, immigrants and their sponsors, families, and advocates are very worried.
I’m sure some of my clients will consider giving up their American dreams and returning permanently to their home countries. Even Americans are thinking about leaving! As the election results became clear, the Canadian government’s immigration website crashed under the weight of many American citizens checking out how to get out of America and immigrate there.
But it’s a good time to take a deep breath. The election of one president will not cause the sky to fall. Waiting to see what happens would be wise.
The new president does not take office until January 20. In the time between now and then, Congress could take action to limit his options after the election. After all, Congress makes the laws; the president is only charged with administering what Congress sets as policy.
Trump himself could walk away from some of his campaign statements about immigration. In fact, he already has (during the campaign) moved from a total ban on Muslim immigrants to “extreme vetting” of refugees and a possible ban on immigration from (unspecified) countries that “have been compromised by terrorism.” He has a history of changing his positions.
What about the pledge to deport all unauthorized immigrants? Trump has moderated that position to a priority on fast deportation of criminal aliens (the stated policy of the current administration) and to enforcing all immigration laws. Finding and deporting all of the estimated 11 million unauthorized migrants would require Congress to appropriate five times as much money for enforcement as the current budget allows. Will a fiscally responsible Congress do that?
It’s a good time to have a little patience, while trying to shape the new administration’s policies by peaceful advocacy.
All of that being said, here are the most repeated and least flexible of Trump’s immigration policies:
- Ending President Obama’s administrative Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA has given temporary harbor to unauthorized migrants who were essentially brought here when they were children and who have shown good behavior and educational ambition. Since this program was a unilateral act of the Obama administration, the Trump administration would have unilateral power to cancel it.
However, “cancel” could mean many things. It likely means that once Trump is president, he will instruct USCIS to process no more DACA applications and issue no more employment authorizations, either for new applicants or renewing DACA holders. If he wanted to spend the time and money needed, he could try to cancel existing employment authorizations, but it would be easier just to let them expire. Nobody in Trumpland is talking about the most extreme form of cancellation, which would be to use information collected during DACA to begin deportation proceedings against all who registered. That extreme action is not likely, although it could happen.
- Building a Wall on the U.S. southern border. The US-Mexican land border is about 2000 miles long. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized a 700 mile barrier, as well as enhanced technology to interdict unlawful crossings.
However, the Act has never been fully funded, and Trump’s proposed full wall would have to add about 1,300 more miles of barrier. Congress would have to appropriate money to do this, and it has failed to do so under Democratic and Republican leadership. Trump would not have the power to fulfill this promise on his own. As for having Mexico pay for the wall – what would be his leverage? Threatening to undo NAFTA? Oh, wait. He was going to do that anyway.
- “Turn off the jobs and benefits magnet” that attracts unlawful immigrants. This most likely means stronger enforcement against businesses that employ unauthorized workers. Trump could redirect existing resources to this mission on his own, but at the risk of really disrupting the economy, since many businesses really depend on their undocumented workers.
- “Extreme vetting” for immigrants, and a “biometric entry-exit visa tracking system.” How “extreme vetting” would exceed already stringent inspection of immigrants, especially those from terrorism-related countries, Mr. Trump has not outlined, but presumably it and the entry-exit tracking systems would require more money, again from Congress. The 9/11 Commission had recommended an entry-exit tracking system, but Congress has never appropriated enough money for the Department of Homeland Security to create one. Here, too, Mr. Trump would need help from Congress to achieve his goal.
Conclusion: Among all the immigration policy campaign promises made by Mr. Trump, only a couple could he implement on his own; all the others require large appropriations of money by Congress – and some require changes in the written law. So even if he sticks to his intentions, time, money, and the assistance of Congress will be required for the changes he has advocated.
The sky is not falling yet, but stay tuned; it could.