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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1

Immigration, Politics

As President Trump reaches three years in office, what are his major effects on immigration? Trump issued executive orders to implement three campaign promises soon after taking office in January 2017: building a wall on the Mexico-US border, increasing deportations, and reducing refugee admissions overall and barring visitors from particular countries, the so-called Muslim ban.

Trump promised an additional 450 miles of border wall before the November 2020 elections, which would mean barriers on over half of the Mexico-US border. In February 2019 Trump declared a national emergency and moved over $6 billion from the military and other sources to build and repair fences and barriers on the Mexico-US border.

In January 2020, Trump was reportedly considering moving another $7.2 billion from counternarcotics and military construction funding to build and repair barriers on the border.

Trump?s emergency declaration was challenged in the courts and Congress, but the US Supreme Court allowed DHS to continue to build and repair border barriers in areas with the most illegal crossings. DHS is constructing two parallel fences thirty-feet high that rely on six-inch square bollards to prevent entries, tubes with a rebar core filled with concrete for the first 10 feet, and announced in January 2020 that 100 miles of new barriers had been constructed.

The US deported 256,000 unauthorized foreigners in FY18, down from the peak 410,000 in FY12 but up from the less than 50,000 a year in the 1990s. The increase in deportations under President Obama was linked to the Secure Communities program, which enlisted many of the 3,141 state, county, and local police agencies to provide the fingerprints of all persons arrested to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, enabling ICE agents to identify and detain suspected unauthorized foreigners.

Obama ended Secure Communities in 2013, but it was revived under Trump. Migrant advocates charge that most of the foreigners turned over to ICE by state and local police have not committed "serious" US crimes, and want state and local police not to report foreigners to ICE.

ICE says that if state and local police do not inform them of suspected unauthorized foreigners in their custody, ICE agents must go into communities and workplaces to find them, increasing the chances that other unauthorized foreigners will be detected and detained.

President Trump says that migrants from particular countries pose security risks, and sought to ban entries from countries that do not cooperate with the US to fight terrorism. The US Supreme Court in June 2018 ruled that Trump has the authority to ban travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela.

Trump issued a Buy American and Hire American executive order in April 2017 that ordered federal agencies to study existing guest worker programs and recommend changes "to protect the interests of US workers ? including through the prevention of fraud or abuse." The result has been far more "requests for evidence" from employers who want to hire foreign guest workers, asking them to explain why, if a particular job is skilled as required for the H-1B program, a low wage is being offered to the H-1B worker.

There are three major impacts of Trump's first three years of migration policy-making. First, Trump proved willing to use government shutdowns at home, and to threaten tariffs and the suspension of foreign aid abroad, to reduce the number of Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.

Second, many of Trump's policies were challenged in the courts, where judges often issued injunctions that blocked efforts to end DACA, penalize sanctuary states and cities with loss of federal grants, and to have USCIS check foreigners seeking immigrant visas more carefully to ensure they will not become public charges.

Third, Trump reduced refugee admissions to 18,000 for FY20 in ways that may make it hard to quickly admit more in the future. The US government makes grants to NGOs to resettle refugees, many of which have laid off staff and shrunk. State and local governments must agree to accept refugees. Texas, which has resettled the most refugees since FY10, said in January 2020 that it would not take any more, citing the influx of migrants across the Mexican border.

Some things have not changed. Since Trump took office, legal immigration has continued at 1.1 million a year, including two-thirds who are sponsored by family members in the US. The unauthorized migration of Mexican men seeking to elude the Border Patrol to work seasonally in US agriculture has virtually ceased, replaced by Central American families who cross illegally and seek out Border Patrol agents to apply for asylum.

Even though Trump-owned businesses employ low-skilled guest workers, there have not been major changes to the H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs, although the H-2A program has expanded significantly.

Politics. Most major Democratic candidates for their party's presidential nomination except former Vice President Joe Biden have promised to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro asked other Democratic candidates to pledge to decriminalize illegal border crossings during the June 26, 2019 debate.

Biden in December 2019 promised to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program that protects unauthorized foreigners who arrived before age 16 from deportation and to end the remain-in-Mexico program for asylum seekers. Biden was attacked at several rallies by immigration activists who noted that almost three million foreigners were deported under the Obama administration. Biden promised to prioritize the removal of foreigners convicted of US crimes, which was Obama's policy at the end of his term.

Biden promised to admit 125,000 refugees a year, to double the number of immigration judges who deal with asylum applications, and to end for-profit migrant detention centers. Biden promised $1 billion a year to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to promote economic development.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) promised to stop ICE workplace raids, hire more inspectors to enforce labor laws, and allow migrant workers to file complaints without fear of deportation. Sanders wants to hire more OSHA inspectors to improve workplace safety and to reduce line speeds in meat-packing plants and allow guest workers to change employers.

Mobility. How do the children of poor immigrants fare? A study linking fathers and sons found that the children of poor immigrants had greater success climbing the economic ladder than the children of similarly poor US-born fathers throughout the 20th century.

The study focused on boys who grew up in families that were at the 25th percentile of US incomes, meaning that three-fourths of families had higher incomes. The census began to report income only in 1940, so income in earlier years had to be estimated. Only immigrants with Social Security numbers were included in the study.

One explanation for the greater success of the children of poor immigrant parents is that immigrant family incomes may have been artificially low due to the parents' lack of English, so the researchers may be comparing an ex-doctor who worked as a laborer in the US with a US-born laborer, and found that the son of the ex-doctor fared better than the son of the US-laborer. Another explanation is that immigrants move to opportunity, so that the sons of immigrants are more likely to experience upward mobility in booming cities while sons of US-born fathers who live in lagging areas do not achieve higher incomes.