In less than four years and through more than 400 executive orders and rule changes, the government of President Donald Trump has “dismantled and rebuilt” the U.S. immigration system, according to a report released Friday by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
“It is unlikely that any future government will have the political will and resources to undo all these changes at a nearly similar pace,” said researchers Sarah Pierce and Jessica Bolter, authors of the study.
The 126-page report contains a list and detailed description of the measures imposed by the Trump government on immigration, including the detention of undocumented immigrants, pressure on immigration courts, and police action at the border.
“Thus, no matter whether the pendulum swings toward policies that favor revitalizing immigration, restoring humanitarian protections, and more accurate enforcement, the Trump presidency will have a long-lasting effect on the immigration system long after its term ends,” they added.
Trump set the tone for his approach to immigration from the very moment he announced in 2015 that he would seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination when he labelled Mexicans as rapists and murderers and promised that he would build a 2,000-mile wall on the southern border of the United States to prevent migration.
Several of the measures adopted by the Trump government were highly controversial and publicized, such as the ban on the entry of foreigners from countries where the majority of the population is Muslim, the cancellation of the DACA program, and the forced separation of thousands of children brought by their parents illegally to the U.S., many of which have been settled in court.
His government has also sought to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to benefits such as food stamps and medical care and has sent military personnel to the border to support the capture and detention of immigrants.
Since 2019, the Trump administration has denied tens of thousands of asylum-seekers the hearings required by law and sent them back to Mexico or Central America where they must wait for their applications to be answered while they remain in conditions that human rights groups have described as dangerous and deplorable.
But beyond the most notorious actions, the Trump Administration has modified dozens of rules and procedures to make visa procedures more difficult, restrict the education of foreign students, and delay the naturalization of legal immigrants who have applied for U.S. citizenship.
“After promising one of the most militant immigration agendas, the president has delivered almost everything he promised in the campaign, almost exclusively through executive orders and legislation, ignoring a Congress with which he had promised to work for comprehensive reform,” the report said.
“The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic during Trump’s fourth year in the White House added to the power of many of these efforts,” it added. The pandemic “gave the government, in the name of public health and the economic crisis, an opportunity to complete some of the outstanding aspects of its agenda, including the suspension of visas for certain categories of immigrants and visitors.
Looking ahead, the researchers concluded that Trump’s re-election in the November 3 election “will likely be seen by many as a reaffirmation of his immigration agenda, which was more crucial in his 2016 campaign and during his first term than it has been for any other contemporary American politician.
And if the Democrats win the election, “the new administration will probably seek to undo many of Trump’s actions on immigration, as promised by virtual presidential candidate Joe Biden,” but “while it is possible to rescind many of these changes, others cannot be simply dismantled.
“An immediate termination of the Trump government’s asylum policies on the southern border could invite another wave of asylum seekers, something the country’s resources and public opinion are not well equipped to handle,” he added.
“And the mere termination of each of the hundreds of changes catalogued in this report will require an enormous investment of money, resources and bureaucracy,” the report acknowledged.