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July 2017, Volume 23, Number 3

Trump: Immigration

President Trump reached the 100-day mark in his presidency April 29, 2017 with some of the lowest approval rates in modern-day polling, 42 percent, but with strong support from those who voted for him in November 2016.

Trump issued 30 executive orders in his first 100 days in office. Many lay out ambitious goals, but most request federal agencies to review programs and provide options to "make America great again."

Four executive orders deal with immigration, including the Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and the Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, both issued January 25, 2017, the Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals issued January 27, 2017 and replaced on March 6, 2017, and the Buy American and Hire American issued April 18, 2017.

Parts of the travel-ban executive orders were blocked by courts. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2017 ruled 10-3 that Trump's revised March 2017 travel-ban executive order "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination," upholding a district court order that blocks its implementation. The Ninth Court of Appeals in June 2017 used different reasoning to also block the revised executive order in a 3-0 ruling, finding that Trump failed to justify on national security grounds the travel ban.

Trump appealed the Fourth Circuit's decision to the US Supreme Court, seeking clarity over the president's authority to make national security judgments to protect Americans from terrorism. The Supreme Court in June 2017 allowed DHS to block the entry of foreigners from six countries with no "bona fide relationship" to US residents until it hears arguments on the appeals court decisions in Fall 2017; three justices would have allowed the entire travel order to go into effect immediately. Iran sends the most visitors to the US from the six affected countries.

The Buy American and Hire American executive order of April 18, 2017, directs federal agencies that deal with guest workers to study existing guest worker programs and recommend changes "to protect the interests of US workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2017 ordered US attorneys to prioritize prosecutions of unauthorized foreigners. About 52 percent of federal criminal prosecutions involved immigration-related offenses in FY16, with the largest number, 24,500, from Southern District of Texas, which covers the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Sessions promised 125 more immigration judges to speed the processing of cases, and stepped up enforcement of federal laws against identity theft, as when an unauthorized worker uses another person's SSN to get hired. Sessions ordered states and local governments to certify by June 30, 2017 that they were in compliance with a 1996 federal law requiring them to cooperate with DOJ to enforce immigration laws or risk loss of DOJ grants, which are relatively small.

A federal judge in California in April 2017 blocked the implementation of Trump's executive order denying federal funds to sanctuary cities, saying that only Congress could place conditions on federal grants. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities sued, saying that being forced to cooperate with federal immigration agents would reduce the willingness of local residents to work with police, making their cities more dangerous.

The House passed a bill in June 2017 that would deny federal grants to sanctuary cities and protect state and local governments from suits if they are sued for cooperating with ICE. Another bill, so-called Kate's law, would toughen penalties on foreigners deported for US felonies who return to the US.

President Obama had set the refugee resettlement ceiling at 110,000 for FY17; President Trump reduced it to 55,000. Nine NGOs resettle refugees in the US, and all have frozen hiring as a slowdown in refugee arrivals means less government money. The US government provided $554 million to help resettle 85,000 refugees in FY16, an average $6,500 each, with half going to the nine NGOs. The nine NGOs usually contract out resettlement to local affiliates who receive $2,075 per person resettled.

Several bills to create state-sponsored work-visa programs have been introduced. States would sponsor guest workers, who could work for up to three years in the state (or a group of states) for employers designated by state governments. State-sponsored guest workers could lose their legal status if they were jobless more than 60 days.

DACA. President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program in June 2012 for unauthorized foreigners brought to the US before the age of 16 and who completed high school in the US. Some 765,000 foreigners, most under age 35, received two-year work and residence permits by March 2017. DACA recipients are eligible for driver's licenses in all states except Arizona.

DHS in June 2017 announced that it would continue to renew DACA permits and accept new applications, reversing Trump's campaign pledge to end DACA. Ten states led by Texas threatened to sue if Trump does not keep his campaign promise and end DACA by September 2017.

Bills in Congress would extend DACA until comprehensive immigration reforms are enacted. Some want a "clean" extension, while others want to couple extended DACA with a requirement that all employers use E-Verify to check new hires or funding for a wall on the Mexico-US border. DHS formally ended attempts to implement the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which was stayed by federal courts.

Democrats. Trump's victory in November 2016 prompted some Democrats to rethink their attitudes toward immigrants in order to regain support from low-income whites, who sometimes believe that Democrats favor immigrants over US citizens. Senator Barack Obama in 2006 said that "When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I'm forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration."

Democrats largely moved to embrace the immigration-is-all-good narrative by 2016, when Bernie Sanders was criticized for saying that the arrival of low-skilled migrants puts downward pressure on the wages of similar US workers. Some believe that Clinton's loss to Trump may lead to a rethinking of immigration among Democratic party elites.

Mariel. The Wall Street Journal on June 17, 2017 reviewed the debate over the arrival of 250,000 Cuban Marielitos in the US in summer 1980. Half of the Marielitos stayed in the Miami area, and this "natural experiment" provided an opportunity to estimate the effects of increasing the size of the labor force by seven percent on US workers.

Economist Card in 1990 concluded that the Marielitos did not affect the wages or unemployment of US workers in Miami, a unexpected result given the sharp increase in the supply of labor. Card suggested that employers used labor-intensive production methods to absorb the additional workers, and the influx of stimulated housing and other sectors, creating jobs.

Economist Borjas re-examined the data in 2015, and concluded that wages for low-skilled US workers in Miami who did not complete high school fell from 10 to 30 percent after the Marielitos arrived, as economic theory would predict. There were few male, non-Hispanic high school drop outs. Other papers that examined what happened to broader groups of US workers, including women and teens still in school, did not find wage depression due to Marielitos, suggesting that, the larger the US group, the more diluted any negative impacts of immigrants.

Borjas believes that economists who favor more trade and more immigration tend to focus on benefits and minimize costs, setting the stage for backlashes by those adversely affected, as with voters who supported Trump for president.

Ben Leubsdorf, The Great Mariel Boatlift Debate: DoesÿImmigration Lower Wages? Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2017