During his campaign for the highest office in the land, it was clear that President Trump was not looking to do any favors for immigrants. No one could have predicted the wide-sweeping changes he would make once inaugurated, let alone the pace at which those policies would be implemented. It felt like on an almost daily basis there was either a new Executive Order, Attorney General Decision, or DHS/USCIS Policy clearly aimed at denying immigrant rights.
Over the past 4 years, the Trump Administration took several actions to deny immigrants entry into the United States and aimed to deport as many immigrants as possible. His Administration implemented the “Muslim Ban” which gave consular officers the discretion to deny immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen entry to the United States under the guise of protecting citizens from terrorism. Under his Administration, USCIS attempted to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), only to have the decision reversed by the Supreme Court for giving inadequate notice to recipients of the benefits they had previously received and because the program was terminated in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Many of the Administration’s policies were also geared towards placing additional immigrants into deportation proceedings. The Administration attempted to end TPS for several countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan, with the termination of the programs currently on hold until they are Federally litigated.
There were also several Attorney General decisions that limited the authority of Immigration Judges to adjudicate cases in an efficient manner and taking away immigrant rights. One case was Matter of Castro-Tum, 27 I&N Dec 187 (A.G. 2018). The decision prevented Immigration Judges from administratively closing cases. This effectively made it impossible for several immigrants to seek waivers based on medical as well as other hardships to their spouses and parents who were US Citizens or lawful permanent residents. The Attorney General decision that likely drew the most headlines was Matter of AB-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018). Matter of AB- held that generalized gang violence did not serve as a basis for asylum. This case led to the deportation of several Central American immigrants, despite the fact that they were forced to return to a country with life-threatening conditions due to unprecedented gang violence.
The Trump Administration was also responsible for the largest number of Immigration Judge appointments. By 2019, he had appointed approximately 200 judges which made up 43% of the total number of Immigration Judges. Despite this increase, the policies he implemented did not speed up the process, but, in effect, slowed it and clogged up an already overflowing immigration docket. President Trump also signed executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which took away the ability for prosecutors to exercise their discretion and to request that cases be administratively closed for certain non-priority immigrants. This policy was counter-intuitive as prosecutors had to enforce the law against every immigrant, regardless of their ties to the community or lack of criminal history, instead of taking the time to focus on priority immigrants with past criminal conduct which made them a danger to the community and national security.
As we entered 2020, the world was devastated by the Corona Virus. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to mass shutdowns and border closures, the Trump Administration used it as an opportunity to try and undermine the immigration system even further. President Trump signed an executive order restricting foreign nationals from obtaining certain temporary employment-based visas, including H1-B Visas, H-2B Visas, H-4 Visas, L-1 Visas, and J-1 Visas. The Trump Administration also threatened to enforce a policy requiring students to take-in person classes in order to remain in the United States, but quickly withdrew the policy after Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit. Despite the country and the world having to adjust to the “new normal,” the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies knew no bound.
With Trump reaching the end of his term as President and Joe Biden set to become the 46th president of the United States, many experts believe that more rights will be provided to immigrants. There is no doubt that benefits such as DACA will remain in effect, and expanded, and the “Muslim Ban” will likely be lifted. However, many questions remain as to what will happen to all other immigrants affected by the Administration’s actions over the past 4 years. The Ninth Circuit has already held that the Trump Administration may terminate TPS for El Salvadorians, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and the Sudanese. Asylum law has been completely revamped with little indication as to whether things will go back to the pre-Trump framework. It is also unclear as to whether Congress will pass amnesty or if there will be immigration reform when our representatives are unable to agree on anything, even who won the Presidential Election. Despite President-Elect Biden vowing to secure our values as a nation of immigrants, it is clear that the Trump Administration has forever changed the immigration landscape.