What a Trump Presidency May Look Like for Immigration

Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Matt A.J.

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo credit: Flickr, Matt A.J.

Many people across the United States and around the world are still in shock from the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election this week. The Trump Administration will no doubt have significant impacts on many people in the U.S. and internationally, particularly vulnerable and marginalized populations, and that impact will undoubtedly extend to immigrants and refugees and their families, many of whom are in mixed-status families with U.S. citizens.

If Hillary Clinton won the popular majority vote, how did Donald Trump win the election?

The strange geography of the Electoral College in the U.S. led to this particular outcome. As the Pew Research Center notes, “For the fifth time in U.S. history, and the second time this century, a presidential candidate has won the White House while (apparently) losing the popular vote…As of Wednesday afternoon, Clinton was slightly ahead of Trump, 59.6 million votes (47.66%) to 59.4 million (47.5%).” For additional context, there are nearly 325 million people residing in the U.S. Of those, nearly 219 million are eligible to vote, and around 146 million are registered to vote. Unfortunately, millions of people either chose not to participate in the election or were unable to do so.

How much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric will turn into policy proposals, executive orders and actions, and legislation through a republican-controlled Congress?

Time will tell. We have an idea as to how Trump will approach immigration and refugee issues based on his statements made throughout the campaign (in a previous three-part series of posts for The Migrationist in August, I highlighted the immigration proposals of each candidate: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), ideas rooted in some aspects of the Republican Party platform, proposals on his campaign website, and the folks he’s beginning to include on his team. A couple of observations to watch for as President-Elect Trump transitions to the White House:

His 10-point plan

Trump unveiled a “10-point plan” on immigration during remarks on immigration he made in Phoenix on August 31. To recap, here is a summary of the main points in this plan: 1. Build an “impenetrable physical wall on the southern border” and make Mexico pay for it. 2. End “catch-and-release.” If anyone is caught illegally crossing the border, that person will be detained until deported. 3. Deport immigrants in the country illegally convicted of crimes. 4. End sanctuary cities (cities where local law enforcement officers aren’t required to alert federal authorities to people in the country illegally). 5. End Obama’s executive actions, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and triple the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. 6. Suspend issuance of visas to people in places where “adequate screening cannot occur, until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.” 7. Make sure countries take back their own citizens when the United State orders them deported. 8. Fully implement at all land, air, and sea ports a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system. 9. “Turn off the jobs and benefits magnet” that attract immigrants who come to the United States illegally. 10. Reform legal immigration and keep it “within historic norms,” to serve the best interests of America and its workers.

Many observers describe this plan as the solidification of Trump’s views on immigration, and we can only assume these are the views he will carry with him to the White House. But what of these proposals might Trump be able to implement? “Some actions, like reversing President Obama’s immigration executive actions, can be done unilaterally,” Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School, said. “Others, like building a wall and strengthening border security, will require Congress to change current law or to agree to spend the billions of dollars such proposals will require.” Other controversial proposals such as the creation of an ideological test for admission to the U.S. “that would assess an immigrant’s stances on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights, would surely provoke constitutional challenges in the courts,” Yale-Loehr said.

Bringing Anti-Immigrant Policy Makers into the Shaping of his Policies

President-Elect Trump is including virulently anti-immigrant individuals on his transition team. Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas and counsel with the Immigration Law Reform Institute, an arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is reportedly joining Trump’s transition team. Kobach made a name for himself as the architect of many of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation in recent history in the U.S., including Arizona’s SB 1070, which sparked copycat state-level actions elsewhere in the U.S., as well as Alabama’s HB 56.

In short, as Kobach said in an interview, “I’m a member of the immigration policy transition team and there’s going to be a lot to do there in part because Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama are diametric opposites when it comes to immigration policy so there will be a lot of changes.”

The immigration transition team is also composed of staffers connected to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was one of the main opponents in the Senate to bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform over recent years. Folks on the team are also trying to figure out how to build Mr. Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “There’s no question the wall is going to get built. The only question is how quickly will it get done and who pays for it?” Kobach said.

The Response of Advocates

With the writing on the wall, NGOs and other elements of civil society are gearing up for a huge course change for immigration policy in the United States—a trajectory that could have harsh impacts on many individuals and families across the country. For example, the National Partnership for New Americans noted, “If President-elect Trump keeps his promises, then 750,000 undocumented youth whose lives were changed by DACA will lose it [many of whom have grown up in the U.S. and have been educated in U.S. public schools]; we will no longer resettle Muslim refugees fleeing horrendous violence; there will be a ‘deportation force’ destroying millions of families; and we will build a wall along our border with Mexico.” They urged to bear in mind that “America’s success is rooted in our ongoing commitment to welcoming and integrating newcomers into the fabric of our nation, and to upholding equality and opportunity as fundamental American values. New Americans are central to what has made this country great for generations.”

David Lubell, executive director of Welcoming America, made the following statement after the election: “To the one in four Americans who is an immigrant or child of an immigrant—this is your home, you belong here, and we fight alongside you. To families who fear being torn apart by deportations—our country must be better than that. To the refugees who fear being sent back to grave danger—we cannot allow that to happen. To Americans of all identities—we must work together to make sure this country continues to be for all of us…We can also help build bridges at this critical time in history. Our country is more polarized than ever, but we can move beyond this. We can show all people that our differing identities are actually assets in making our communities and nation stronger—that our immigrant and refugee neighbors are our friends and partners. This will mean sitting down with long-time residents who may feel they themselves are becoming strangers in their own communities.”

“Despite the rhetoric on the campaign trail,” Wendy Feliz, of the American Immigration Council, noted, “a range of post-election data show that the majority of Trump voters do not support proposals that would deport massive numbers of immigrants and they are more likely to favor productive immigration solutions.” In the end, the vibrant and vast civil society in the U.S. working in local communities across the country, and at the state and national levels, must be vocal and challenge the Trump Administration on moral, legal, and constitutional transgressions—whether immigration-related or otherwise.

As Feliz said, these elements of civil society, including a “strong and vibrant immigrant rights community…will not stand by and allow any part of the government to run roughshod over our nation’s values and commitments to fairness and due process.” These are part of the “mechanisms in place for us all to participate, push back, challenge and disagree with unjust and illegal actions. No doubt there will be battles ahead but progress on important social issues has never been quick or easy and immigration is no exception.”


  1. Katy Nagy · · Reply

    David Lubell said, “We can show all people that our differing identities are actually assets in making our communities and nation stronger—that our immigrant and refugee neighbors are our friends and partners. This will mean sitting down with long-time residents who may feel they themselves are becoming strangers in their own communities.” What are some ways to achieve this? Has their been any work in facilitating effective dialogue to create those bridges? I feel it is imperative that that happens, but where, and with whom do we start? I have seen many articles about beginning within families and small communities and there are some resources for engaging in meaningful conversations on a very small scale. I agree that we should start there, but I also feel that there needs to be a plan to scale up those conversations and to approach the process with empathy.


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