January 2021, Volume 27, Number 1
Immigration: Biden, Trump Legacies
Democrat Joe Biden was elected president in November 2020, winning 81 million votes and 306 electoral votes to 74 million votes and 232 electoral votes for Republican Donald Trump. Almost half of the votes in 2020 were cast by mail.
Biden promised to stop building the wall on the Mexico-US border, change immigration enforcement priorities inside the US, and increase refugee admissions to 125,000 a year. Biden also promised to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that gives temporary work permits to unauthorized foreigners who were in the US before age 16, to stop deportations for 100 days, and to urge Congress to approve legislation that would create a path to legalize the 10.5 million unauthorized foreigners in the US, including farm workers.
The first priorities of a Biden administration include dealing with the Covid pandemic and its economic fallout. Biden promised to take steps to slow climate change, create new options for Americans to obtain health insurance and invest in infrastructure.
Biden is likely to return to Obama administration migration policies. Unlike some of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden did not promise to make illegal entry into the US a misdemeanor or to abolish ICE.
Biden’s website promised to “ensure farm workers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, regardless of immigration status,” and promised to encourage Congress to require paid sick time for farmworkers and to step up the enforcement of protective labor laws in agriculture.
Legacies. President Trump made over 400 changes to the US immigration system, from ordering the building of a wall on the Mexico-US border to requiring over 60,000 asylum seekers who arrived in the US from Mexico to wait in Mexico for their hearings.
Beginning in March 2020, asylum seekers and unauthorized foreigners apprehended just inside the US border were returned to Mexico under an emergency health order. One result was more Mexican men being apprehended multiple times, since apprehension resulted in a quick return to Mexico and the opportunity to try to re-enter the US.
There were many analyses of Trump’s legacies on immigration and other issues. Before Trump, Democrats and Republicans generally agreed that the US was a nation of immigrants that benefitted from admitting more. Disagreement centered on unauthorized or illegal migration, and especially what to do about the 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US.
Trump threatened to deport unauthorized foreigners, beginning with those convicted of US crimes. However, deportations or removals fell in the Trump administration, in part because many states and cities refused to cooperate with ICE, the agency that enforces immigration laws inside the US, refusing to share information on foreigners convicted of crimes as they exited prisons and jails.
Trump reduced refugee admissions to 15,000 in FY19, down from over 100,000 a year during the Obama administration. Trump allowed the USCIS agency to deny immigrant visas to foreigners who have been or are likely to become public charges dependent on federal welfare assistance.
Trump tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected 640,000 unauthorized foreigners brought to the US as children at the end of 2020, and 400,000 foreigners who have temporary protected status because of disasters in their home countries. Judges stayed both of these executive actions, and a Biden administration is likely to reverse them.
The major legacies of Trump’s policies were the wall on the Mexico-US border and the separation of children from their parents in May-June 2018. Trump spent about $15 billion on 450 miles of border wall; two-thirds taken from the US military budget after Congress refused to appropriate as much as Trump wanted to spend. Most of the new and reinforced wall was built in areas controlled by the federal government rather than in areas where most migrants enter the US, as in the Rio Grande Valley where many private landowners refuse to allow access to their properties.
Trump’s child-separation policy was widely condemned. All adults who entered the US illegally in May-June 2018 were prosecuted. However, because children cannot be detained for more than 20 days, some 4,000 children were separated from their parents. Some of the parents were deported without being reunited with their children, raising an outcry and making child separation one of the most controversial Trump policies.
Trump’s protectionist trade policies were reflected in an America-first policy that led to tariffs on allies that have trade surpluses with the US. Efforts to protect US workers from foreign competition may continue, since many Democrats are skeptical that the rising tide of freer trade lifts all boats. Unions emphasize the loss of US manufacturing jobs to China, Mexico and other countries, and expect strict policing of the labor provisions of the new USMCA that require Mexico to revise and enforce its labor laws.
Republicans traditionally worried about a rising national debt and the strains an aging population will place on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds and called for reducing government benefits rather than raising taxes. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts led to unprecedented peace-time deficits that increased with federal spending to mitigate the effects of the Covid lockdowns. Economists predicted that massive federal spending in 2020 would lead to higher interest rates and inflation, but these after effects have not (yet) occurred.
Will Trumpism, defined as anti-immigrant, anti-globalization, and anti-elite attitudes, fade away? Trump may declare his candidacy for the 2024 Republican nomination, which would give him a platform for rallies that attack the deep state of bureaucrats, foreigners seeking to take advantage of the US, and elites who embrace globalism. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, Republicans concluded that they “must embrace and champion conservative immigration reform” to win elections given rapidly changing demographics. Trump’s victory in 2016 seemed to disprove this conclusion.
One of the legacies of Trump is the reshaping of the judiciary; 53 of the 165 judges on US courts of appeal were appointed by Trump. Most appeals court cases are decided by three-judge panels whose rulings are usually final.
The 2020 elections showed that the US is divided almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Vote margins in many key battleground states were very narrow. The House remained in Democratic hands, but with a reduced majority of the 435 seats, and the Senate was tied.
Before the November 2020 elections, Democrats had full control of 19 state legislatures and 24 governorships, while the Republicans had 29 legislatures and 26 governorships. After November 2020, the picture was largely the same, with Republicans adding one governorship.
Census. The Census estimated 333 million US residents on April 1, 2020, up from 308 million in 2010. However, the Census missed a December 31, 2020 deadline to deliver the data needed to allocate House Congressional seats and federal funding. President Trump asked Census for two state-by-state population counts, a total count and a count that removes the unauthorized foreigners in each state.
Federal courts ruled in 2020 that unauthorized foreigners may not be removed from state population counts. The US Supreme Court in November 2020 heard arguments on whether the federal government may exclude unauthorized foreigners from the count when redistricting to allocate Congressional seats. With 333 million residents, the 435 House districts have an average 760,000 residents. The 10.5 million unauthorized foreigners are not evenly distributed. Excluding them could reduce the number of House seats in California by two.
The Census reported problems with the count of people living in group quarters. There were 7.5 million such persons in 2010, but there could be fewer in 2020 due to students who moved home in spring 2020 during the pandemic.