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8 Ways the Trump Administration is Changing Immigration for the Worse

Written by Carmen Cornejo

1. The Attorney General Is Setting High Deportation Quotas

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an ideologue and immigration restrictionist, and his actions in this powerful position speak volumes. Under his tenure, the Justice Department has set new quotas for immigration judges in order to cut the backlog of cases and to speed deportations.

In early April 2018, he sent a memo to all immigration judges in the country demanding that they must clear at least 700 cases annually each. Please note that immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) headed by Sessions, and immigration judges are not independent as judges in the justice system are, so his demands really put a lot of pressure on them.

This demand to expedite the cases is not that simple. Immigration judges handle a wide array of cases, including victims of crimes, unaccompanied minors, longtime residents of the U.S. with strong ties to the community, and individuals who crossed the border a few days ago. This proposed rush to deal with immigration cases may jeopardize due process and the rule of law in this country while putting the integrity of the judges on the line.

2. The Elimination of Prosecutorial Discretion and Enforcement Priorities

As we wrote in Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund, the Obama administration set immigration enforcement priorities, focusing resources on individuals who pose a danger to the community or national security. Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to go after all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their ties with the community or their good conduct and good citizenship.

We have seen in dramatic videos what these actions mean. Innocent mothers and fathers being torn apart from their families and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials lying about the reasons the individuals were detained, such as in the case of Perla Morales-Luna, a mother brutally taken off the street in front of her U.S. citizen daughters. Mrs. Morales-Luna did not have a criminal record, in spite of ICE’s early statements accusing her of being the leader of a human smuggling team. Thanks to public outcry, Mrs. Morales-Luna was later released without charges. ICE’s lack of solid evidence against her, forcing them to release her, exposed their lies.

3. Extreme Vetting for Legal Immigrants

The Trump administration not only has affected the lives of undocumented individuals but also the lives of those who can access a path to legalization. Diverse legal immigration processes are experiencing extreme vetting: Basically, the administration is putting more time into revising applications and requesting more documentation, resulting in a slowing down of the bureaucracies.

Some immigration programs such as MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest) have been slowed down almost to a halt, in spite of bringing talented young resources vital to national security.

4. Drastically Reducing Refugee Programs

One of the cruelest traits of the current administration is the attempt to criminalize refugees, especially those who are coming from Middle Eastern countries.

In spite of the horrific conflict and civil war going on in Syria and the U.S.’s recent bombing in retaliation for Assad’s gas attack on the civilian population, the U.S. has approved only 11 new Syrian refugees to live in the U.S. this year, according to NPR. Never mind that no Syrian national has been involved in terrorism against the U.S.

As a result of the Syrian armed conflict, 13.5 million Syrians are requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and around 5 million are refugees outside of Syria. Meanwhile, the most powerful country in the world denies help to those who need refuge. There are many more across the world in need of refuge, but the sad truth is this: The Trump administration is not known for offering compassion to victims of war, poverty and political repression. Please do not forget the administration’s infamous Muslim ban. 

5. Elimination of DACA and TPS

Without good reason, Jeff Sessions announced the elimination of the DACA program, which granted deferred action against deportation and protected status to young people who came as children illegally to the U.S. He also terminated TPS, which protected individuals who cannot return to poor countries still suffering the consequences of civil wars and natural disasters, and who through the years have solidified their ties to the U.S. The elimination of these important processes is being litigated in courts.

6. Reopening Closed Immigration Cases

Many undocumented immigrants were relieved years ago when immigration judges administratively closed their cases, but under this President, a new effort to reopen their files has caused fear and uncertainty. Between March 1 and May 31, 2017, federal prosecutors reopened more than 1,300 immigration cases, according to Reuters‘ analysis of Executive Office of Immigration Review data. The Obama administration reopened cases only if an individual had committed a serious crime.

This piles even more on the backlog of immigration cases the judges need to deal with.

7. Elimination of Safe Spaces

Schools, hospitals, churches, and courthouses had been considered safe spaces for undocumented immigrants, where the presence of immigration enforcement agents was not ethical and deemed inhumane. This, of course, has changed too since Trump became President of the United States.

Not all spaces have been violated, but there have been cases of ICE agents detaining individuals in courthouses.

These actions have a chilling effect on the lives and safety not only of undocumented individuals but citizens too. Imagine victims of crime being fearful to testify in a courthouse for fear of encountering ICE agents, or undocumented immigrants fearful to seek medical attention during an epidemic. That’s bad public policy.

Here is the list of sensible places that should be off-limits to immigration enforcement agencies.

  • Schools, including licensed daycares, pre-schools, or other early learning programs; primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools including colleges and universities; education-related events and activities; and marked school bus stops when children are present.
  • Medical treatment and healthcare facilities, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and urgent care facilities.
  • Houses of worship, including churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.
  • Religious or civil ceremonies or observance, including funerals and weddings.
  • Spaces used for a public demonstration, including a march, rally, or parade.

8. Elimination of Expedited Process for H-1B Visas

Even professional, legal immigrants with sought-after skills in the tech industry have been affected by the hardening of immigration policies during the Trump administration.

Recently, USCIS eliminated the expedited process for H-1B visas, as we reported in Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund.

This has put a strain on the lives of individuals who in other times were seen as the privileged ones in the immigration system, due to their high education in high tech.

In these times, every immigrant needs to be aware of the closing doors.