When Donald Trump leaves the White House, he will leave a legal framework that has led to historically low levels of immigration in the U.S. and put his successor, Democrat Joe Biden, in the delicate balance of restoring suppressed rights without encouraging illegal immigration.
Four years later, Trump will leave unfinished the wall that he promised to build on the border with Mexico, but which he replaced with a series of measures that, in practice, allowed him to achieve his goal of reducing the arrival of undocumented immigrants, thus destroying the country’s tradition of providing asylum and refuge.
FROM TOUGH TALK TO TOUGH MEASURES
His aggressive stance on immigration and the border fence proposal gave Trump the impetus to come to power in 2017 to replace Barack Obama.
The wall is “the great symbol that worked for him and that’s why he became president,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue study center, told Efe. Trump will be remembered as a president who “only cared about his own political agenda” and for “erasing the values” of the country in terms of immigration.
The decisions made by the White House covered different areas and targets, although it was the separation of thousands of immigrant families at the border that most deeply affected public opinion.
The transfer of underage immigrants to various centers after being separated from their parents left a mark that still remains, even though that policy was stopped in June 2018.
Lawyers appointed to reunite these families admitted last October that they have been unable to locate the relatives of 545 children. A congressional committee went further and has warned that these children may “never be reunited with their parents.
Another measure that had an impact was Trump’s attempt to end DACA, Obama’s protection from deportation for “dreamers,” as young people brought into the country as children by their undocumented parents are known.
The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the program.
MEXICO, THE WALL FOR ASYLUM
But it was the nursing home that Trump hit hardest.
Claiming what he called a crisis due to the spike in detentions on the Mexican border-which in May 2019 reached a historic high of 132,856 cases-Trump implemented its “Stay in Mexico” program.
This policy has allowed more than 60,000 undocumented immigrants who crossed the border to wait in Mexico for appointments with immigration judges, which can take months.
On the other hand, Washington warned that in 2021 it will only be able to take in 15,000 refugees, the lowest figure in the country’s history.
The pandemic has also served as an umbrella for the closing of land borders and for the Trump Administration to expeditiously return more than 90% of those crossing illegally into Mexico.
MORE THAN 400 ACTIONS
Changes in migration policy “occurred at an unprecedented, even frenetic, pace during the Trump Administration,” the Migration Policy Institute (MIP) noted in a document.
That Washington-based think tank noted that with 400 executive actions the outgoing administration “methodically dismantled and rebuilt” a system based on a worldview of immigration as a “threat to U.S. security and the economy.
Shifter noted that Trump can be considered the “toughest, most anti-immigrant president, not only in his rhetoric but in his actions” in the country’s recent history.
For Biden, who will begin his term on January 20, the experts’ recommendation is clear: keep the balance.
“The new Administration will face the challenge of balancing the removal of numerous restrictive Trump Administration border policies, managing any future increases (in-migration), and changing procedures and resources at the border to better manage migration flows,” Sarah Pierce, MPI policy analyst, told Efe.
Last December, Susan Rice and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national policy and national security advisors, tried to lower expectations, telling Efe that “the situation on the border will not be transformed overnight.
Both made it clear that the new government will take “months” to re-establish the asylum process on the border with Mexico and considered that “now is not the time” for migrants to travel north.
The warning does not seem to have been heeded, since a caravan of hundreds of migrants has already left Honduras with the idea of arriving in the United States.
Thus, the Democrat will assume the Presidency in the face of what Shifter called a “perfect storm” that may push more Central Americans to migrate to the U.S. after the impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota on that region, the violence figures and an economic situation aggravated by the pandemic.