The Trump Administration's Record On Immigration

May 18, 2019
Originally published on May 18, 2019 9:45 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Immigration has been a central issue for President Trump from the time of his campaign. He's announced a plan to overhaul legal immigration in the United States. It would replace the current system with a so-called merit-based system that favors immigrants who are younger and have more desirable skills. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared the plan, quote, "dead on arrival."

NPR's Joel Rose has been looking back at what the White House has accomplished on immigration, and what it hasn't. Joel, thanks so much for being with us.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

SIMON: What stood out to you in this immigration proposal?

ROSE: I was struck by how quickly it was rejected by people on both sides of the debate, right? Immigration hard-liners hated it because it doesn't cut the number of legal immigrants. In fact, it keeps the number of green cards per year roughly the same. And Democrats didn't like it because it doesn't address any of their key concerns on immigration, like the fate of the DREAMers, young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Or, really, it doesn't deal with any of the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

And even the president himself doesn't really seem to believe that this proposal is going anywhere. Here he is speaking on Thursday.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And if for some reason, possibly political, we can't get the Democrats to approve this merit-based high-security plan, then we will get it approved immediately after the election, when we take back the House, keep the Senate and, of course, hold the presidency.

ROSE: But let's remember that Republicans did control both houses of Congress and the presidency for two years and that they couldn't pass the last immigration plan that the White House supported when they did.

SIMON: Which raises the question of what kind of track record they have.

ROSE: Well, we recently created an online tool to track the Trump administration's immigration policies. And what stands out to me is really how much of a mixed bag it is. You've got a few high-profile victories, a few perhaps equally high-profile defeats and a whole lot of question marks in between.

And you can see that just looking at this week. There's the overhaul plan that's probably not going anywhere. And just yesterday, a second federal appeals court in Maryland ruled against the administration's decision to end DACA, the program that protects almost 700,000 DREAMers. And the Justice Department lawyers on Friday were in court in California defending the national emergency declaration that the White House is using to try to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

SIMON: Courts have often stopped the administration's plans, haven't they?

ROSE: They have. I mean, the list is long. The Justice Department has tried to punish so-called sanctuary cities. Courts rejected that. There's temporary protected status. The Department of Homeland Security tried to end protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador and other troubled countries. Courts put that on hold. And one of the most dramatic defeats for this administration was the repudiation of the family separation policy. Courts told the administration to reunite thousands of children with their parents. The administration is still in litigation over that.

In fact, they're still in court over the travel ban on immigrants and visitors from seven countries, including several majority-Muslim countries. As we know, the Supreme Court upheld that policy in a big win for the White House, but there are still some lingering constitutional questions.

SIMON: So two years into his administration, how has President Trump made U.S. immigration policy different?

ROSE: Well, for sure, deportations and arrests of immigrants in the country illegally are way up since Trump took office. Refugee admissions are down. They're at their lowest levels in decades. And in general, I think the administration has been the most successful when it's stuck to things that are clearly in the executive branch's wheelhouse, like rules, regulations that each new administration gets to write. For example, it's taking a lot longer to get a visa or a citizenship than it did a few years ago. That's a big difference because of additional hoops that immigrants have to jump through.

And immigration experts say that it's small changes like that that actually can really add up to a big difference. Sarah Pierce is an analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

SARAH PIERCE: They've made small tweaks to regulations and policy that I think overall, you know, over time and once they're all put together will make a big difference in reducing the amount of immigrants that are coming into the country.

ROSE: So some of the administration's most visible policy proposals might be stalled. But in the long run, Pierce is saying that the Trump administration may be successful in making lasting changes to the immigration system.

SIMON: NPR's Joel Rose, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSE: You're welcome, Scott.

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