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The Trump Administration has arguably had no greater effect on policy than it has on U.S. immigration policy. At the end of 2017, we wrote this piece recapping all the alarming ways the Trump White House has gone after immigrants and targeted them for mass deportation during Trump’s first year in office. In 2018, the Administration only doubled down on trying to keep would-be immigrants out of the country while kicking those already in the U.S. out.
This year, the Administration separated thousands of children from their families, creating a self-imposed humanitarian crisis that was exacerbated by their inability to reunite the families. The policy continues to this day.
The Administration has attacked the asylum process and lowered refugees admissions numbers to record lows. They’ve continued to go after DACA and protections for Dreamers while undermining temporary protected status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of settled immigrants.
They have continued to not hold ICE and CBP accountable for a growing list of violations, allowing rampant abuse to continue while encouraging massive workplace and sensitive-location raids.
In the midterm elections, the Administration was a fog horn, not a dog whistle, in using racist language and imagery to divide and distract voters. They surrounded themselves with white nationalists. And they are continuing to try and undermine the 2020 census in order to disrupt the political power of diverse communities across America for their own political gain.
The courts, however, have acted as an essential check on the Administration’s unconstitutional behavior this year. The American people have also been a source of inspiration, with polling showing that Americans are now more pro-immigrant than ever. In the midterms, new American voters were responsible for a tsunami election that swept away many xenophobic candidates and office-holders. At the end of a turbulent year, the Trump Administration appears determined to continue down this extremist path, with Trump currently threatening to shut down the federal government unless he is given his border wall — even though polling by CNN found that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling immigration.
Below is a summary of all the things the Trump Administration has changed or tried to change about immigration policy in 2018:
On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy, which resulted in some 3,000 children being forcibly separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The plan sought to criminally prosecute everyone who crossed the border without inspection, even though many families came to seek asylum, which they are allowed to do under U.S. and international law. When a court ordered the Administration to reunite the families, it was discovered that the Administration’s shoddy record-keeping meant they could not do so. Despite an enormous domestic and international outcry, some children remain separated — and some children continue to be separated — from their families today.
Zero tolerance was first discussed by the Administration in early 2017 as a “deterrent” for future migrants. Though DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lied to Congress about the aim of the policy being deterrence, government documents showed otherwise. The government actually pilot-tested the policy in El Paso, Texas for five months starting in July 2017, nine months earlier than the Administration had previously acknowledged. It is unknown how many children the Administration separated during that period. Furthermore, zero tolerance has not been shown to work as a deterrence.
The Administration also tried to hide the terrible conditions faced by detained families and separated children. By mid-June, however, photos of children living in cages and tent cities were made public and seen all over the world. In July, horrific reports and stories began to emerge about the abuse, filthy conditions, and inadequate food and water children and families endured in detention.
On June 20, after massive public pressure on the Administration, Trump signed an executive order that did not actually end family separation. Seven days later, a judge ordered the White House to immediately end separations and begin to reunite the families. The judge ruled that children under the age of 5 must be reunited within 14 days and children age 5 and older within 30 days.
The Administration repeatedly failed to meet these deadlines. An inspector general report found that DHS was “not fully prepared” for zero tolerance and “struggled to provide accurate, complete, reliable data on family separation.” Incompatible computer systems across agencies meant that critical data connecting separated children to their families was erased. Moreover, the Administration deported some 463 parents without their children and failed to keep the necessary records to find those parents again.
In September, the Administration proposed changes to the Flores agreement, which keeps migrant children out of detention centers past a certain amount of time. If Trump goes ahead with changing the Flores regulations, children and their parents may be detained in detention centers for indefinite periods of time.
Even after Trump’s executive order and the court-mandated reunification, the Trump Administration has continued to separate families. The New York Times reported that the Administration has separated 81 more children from their families since June.
Court after court this year blocked the Administration’s attempt — which began in September of last year — to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). On January 10, a court in California handed down an injunction in a DACA case, partially reinstating the program; this decision was followed by a similar injunction from a court in New York the following month.
The Trump Administration then took the extreme step of requesting a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in a process that would skip the appellate court. The Supreme Court denied that request. Nevertheless, on November 5 the Administration again took the unusual step of attempting to skip the normal process, requesting the Supreme Court immediately rule on the California, New York, and Washington, D.C. (mentioned below) cases.
At the end of March, a judge in Brooklyn cited “racially charged language” from President Trump as an indication that the Administration’s decision to end DACA potentially violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
On April 24, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a final judgment in favor of DACA recipients, saying that the federal government failed to provide a sufficient reason for ending the program and giving the White House 90 days to present a better explanation. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, however, merely reiterated the same reason.
In May, seven states led by Republican governments filed suit to challenge the ongoing existence of DACA. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the effort hoped that by bringing a court case in front of the notorious anti-immigrant Judge Andrew Hanen of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, they could finally be successful in undoing the program. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Hanen — who had previously blocked DAPA+, a program meant to further protect Dreamers as well as their parents — did not rule in favor of Paxton and the plaintiffs. In his ruling, Hanen noted that after six years of DACA, Texas could not claim that the program was causing harm to the state that merited immediate action.
On November 8, the Ninth Circuit upheld the California court’s pro-DACA ruling from January, becoming the first appeals court to rule on the program. The ruling lays the foundation for a possible decision from the U.S. Supreme Court next year.
The Administration did, however, see victory in one court case. On March 5, a court in Maryland ruled against the plaintiffs seeking to protect DACA but did grant a nationwide preliminary injunction on the sharing and usage of the information DACA recipients provided to the government. The decision has been appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court.
Throughout 2018 the Trump Administration systematically ended temporary protected status (TPS) for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who fled natural and political disasters. The Administration has terminated or failed to redesignate every country whose TPS renewal deadline has come up this year. That has included TPS termination for:
DHS has extended but failed to resignate TPS (meaning that immigrants who came after the original designation cannot obtain status) for:
Ending TPS puts these immigrants at risk for deportation to nations where they may face violence, disease, gang warfare, and death. Ending TPS could also affect the lives of some 270,000 U.S. citizens who have at least one parent that is a TPS holder. And because many TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for decades, the deportations of these immigrants could result in some 60,000 mortgages being abandoned and 250,000 job layoffs.
Similar to TPS, the Administration in March terminated Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians, which could lead to deportation for some 4,000 long-time, settled residents.
The Administration’s attacks on TPS were, however, also dealt serious setbacks this year. Two lawsuits claiming that the Trump Administration ended TPS for Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador out of racial animus were allowed to move forward. The lawsuits cite Trump’s continual demonizations of Latino immigrants as evidence, including Trump’s infamous comments referring to “shithole” countries. “One could hardly find more direct evidence of discriminatory intent towards Latino immigrants,” Judge George Hazel of Maryland wrote in his decision in December. Hazel’s decision followed a similar ruling from Boston in July. Furthermore, some 300 plus groups have signed a letter calling on the new Congress — with a Democratic House majority — to take up legislation protecting TPS holders in their first 100 days.
The Trump Administration spent much of 2018 viciously attacking and trying to destroy the U.S. asylum process — an entirely legal way of obtaining immigration status. Throughout the year the Administration announced a number of changes to the process, including family separation, some of which were blocked by the courts. The changes were handed down at at a time when more than half of migrants apprehended by CBP were parents with their children or children traveling alone, and may have caused a precipitous drop in approved asylum applications. The number of migrants allowed into the U.S. to seek asylum dropped by 42 percent from May to June. Here are some of the most significant changes the Administration implemented or attempted this year:
Even though the Trump Administration claims to support “legal” immigration, that has repeatedly been shown to not be true. This year, the White House went out of their way to go after immigrants with paths to legalization and future citizenship, attempting to prevent them from correcting their status even though they were legally eligible. Here are some of the ways the Administration has gone after immigrants trying to navigate the official channels:
Despite the fact the number of displaced peoples around the world are reaching levels not seen since World War II, the Trump Administration has continually decreased the number of refugees admitted to the United States. The Administration lowered the refugee cap for 2018 to 45,000, a record low, and then admitted only half that number, 22,491, the lowest number in 40 years. This number also underscores the Islamophobic bent of the Administration: in previous years, Muslims comprised more than 40 percent of refugees, yet Muslims only comprised 14 percent of refugees admitted during the first three months of FY 2018.
This year, the Administration stopped taking applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) program, which allows minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to apply for refugee resettlement while still in their home country. They also stopped the Obama Administration’s work with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to set up refugee processing centers throughout the Central American region and have rejected UNHCR offers to work with countries in the region. Moreover, the Administration only resettled 525 refugees from all of Latin America in FY 2018.
Immigration court in the U.S. is a “quasi-judicial” system that resembles other courts but lacks the independence and rights established in other court systems.The DOJ runs the court, and Attorney General Jeff Session has exercised unprecedented use of his power to alter the system this year. Here are the changes and proposed changes to immigration courts under the Trump Administration in 2018:
The Trump Administration began 2018 with a dramatic raid across 17 states and Washington, D.C. on ninety-eight 7-Eleven stores that led to the arrest of 21 immigrants. The coordinated raid foreshadowed the sharp escalation of workplace raids that continued throughout the year. There were five times as many arrests of immigrants at workplaces in 2018 compared to 2017. This does not count the numerous indiscriminate raids ICE has stepped up across America since the beginning of the Trump Administration. Many of the immigrants caught up in these raids only lacked documentation and had no criminal record whatsoever.
ICE detained 97 immigrants on April 6 in a raid on Southeastern Provision, a cattle-slaughter facility in Tennessee. The following day, over 500 kids missed school as the raid sent a ripple of fear throughout the community.
On May 9, 32 immigrants were detained by ICE after a raid on Midwest Precast Concrete near Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Fr. Nils de Jesús Hernández, a Catholic priest from Postville, Iowa — site of the infamous immigration raid that happened ten years ago this year — condemned what happened in Mount Pleasant and said, “we cannot continue to experience more raids in the USA. Families are divided and children suffer the trauma of not having their parents with them.”
In June, ICE conducted two massive workplace raids in Ohio, the first of which targeted Corso’s Flower and Garden Centers in Sandusky and Castalia, where they arrested a total of 114 workers. This military-style immigration raid, where ICE brought semi-automatic weapons and zip-tied workers, was widely condemned by advocates from faith leaders to elected officials to union leaders to children’s health and welfare experts. Just two weeks later, ICE detained 146 workers at Fresh Mark, a meatpacking plant in Salem, Ohio. ICE also conducted a series of I-9 audits on 5,200 businesses across the nation and arrested 93 immigrants in mid-June.
On August 8, ICE conducted a massive workplace raid across Minnesota and Nebraska arresting 133 immigrant workers. ICE only had warrants for 17 immigrants; the rest were “collateral” arrests from the factories, farms, and restaurants ICE targeted. The main focus of the raid was a tomato factory in O’Neill, Nebraska, a town of about 3,700; the raid directly impacted some 80 families living there.
In their largest workplace raid of the year, ICE raided a manufacturer called Load Trail Trailers two hours south of Dallas, Texas, and arrested 160 immigrants. The massive operation involved 300 agents from across the south who reportedly stormed the facility with weapons drawn.
Donald Trump did not seem to find it necessary to apply these workplace standards to himself or his own businesses. In December, the New York Times revealed that at least four undocumented housekeepers were working at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a residence which has been called Trump’s “summer White House”. The courageous women who stepped forward reported employment abuse and coercion, and said that managers very likely knew they were undocumented. The women were driven around because they could not drive, and a manager helped at least one woman procure employment documentation. So far, no penalty has been levied on Trump or his businesses for the employment violations.
From its beginning, the Trump Administration has pushed to add an onerous citizenship question to the 2020 census, which critics say is a deliberate attempt to undermine the political power of diverse communities across America. On March 26, 2018, Wilbur Ross, who as head of the Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau, announced the 2020 census would feature the new question. He did so even after the Acting Director of the Census Bureau, Ron Jarmin, informed Ross that there were more reliable and cost-effective measures to gather citizenship information. The Census Bureau’s chief scientist, John Abowd, also warned Ross that adding a citizenship question would be “very costly” and would harm “the quality of the census count.” A focus group has already found that the question would likely be a “major barrier” to census participation.
Six days before Ross announced he would add the new question, he lied to Congress, claiming he was acting solely on a Department of Justice request and was not taking White House direction on the matter. But an email from Trump and the National Republican Committee revealed the truth: “the President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens.” This email was followed by another two days after Ross announced the change, stating “President Trump has officially mandated that the 2020 United States Census ask people living in America whether or not they are citizens,” in direct contradiction of what Ross told Congress the week before.
Furthermore, emails released later in 2018 revealed that Kris Kobach, a close ally of Trump and a member of his transition team, had several conversations with Ross in 2017 urging him to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. In one email, Kobach clarified that he was acting “at the direction of Steve Bannon,” the White House chief strategist at the time. Additionally, Ross’ emails showed that, far from responding to a request from DOJ, Ross and his staff asked multiple agencies to make the request for the citizenship question and received one from DOJ after receiving the support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
A series of lawsuits challenged the citizenship question. In one court filing, it was revealed that Ross did, in fact, communicate with both Bannon and Sessions before adding the citizenship question. On October 22, however, the Supreme Court ruled that Ross would not have to testify under oath on census-related court hearings. A judge with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York will soon rule if the Trump Administration will be allowed to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census.
One of the Administration’s main targets, especially for Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, has been safe cities, also known as sanctuary cities. The White House has repeatedly attempted to go after and defund cities that refuse to let ICE co-opt local law enforcement resources, despite the fact that these cities are 1) actually following the law, and 2) are safer than cities that don’t protect their residents.
The Administration first attempted to withhold funds from safe cities in 2017 but was blocked by multiple courts. In June of this year, a federal judge ruled in favor of Philadelphia’s safe city policies, which only hand immigrants over to ICE in cases where there is a warrant, and that it was unconstitutional for the Administration to withhold funds from the city.
Similarly, another federal judge in August ruled the Administration’s efforts to withhold funds from San Francisco unconstitutional. “The United States Constitution exclusively grants the power of the purse to Congress, not the president,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote about the Administration’s attempt to take money away from San Francisco.
Courts again rebuked the Administration after they tried to withhold funds from Chicago. “We have already won this battle in court,” said city counsel Ed Siskel, “and yet the Attorney General continues to disregard numerous federal court rulings.”
In the latest ruling on November 30, the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and New York defeated the Administration in a safe cities court case, making it the fourth time a court ruled against the Administration in this matter. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said the decision was “a major win for New Yorkers’ public safety,”
The court also rebuked the Administration’s attempts to attack California and the California Values Act. In June, the court largely rejected the Administration’s efforts to overturn California’s statewide safe cities law. Challenges by some California cities, however, with the support of out-of-state hate groups, have made preliminary inroads against the Values Act.
Donald Trump and Stephen Miller specifically made this year’s midterm elections a referendum on Trump and his nativism, campaigning relentlessly against immigrants even as commentators warned that this was a losing strategy and fellow Republicans yearned to talk about other topics. This divide-and-distract strategy, where Trump and Republicans tried to gin up their base by demonizing immigrants in order to distract voters from focusing on the GOP’s unpopular policies, backfired massively.
Trump set an anti-immigrant tone that the GOP and their allies quickly followed. CNN reported that there were more than 280,000 immigration-related TV ad spots aired during the election, translating to millions of dollars in misleading and demagogic anti-immigrant messaging. Trump also hit the campaign trail for some of the worst anti-immigrant candidates running in 2018.
Trump especially focused on the migrant caravan that first made headlines in late October and arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in mid-November. Trump attempted to run an anti-caravan ad, but it was too racist even for Fox News, which pulled the ad along with every other major news network. To reinforce his political stunt, Trump sent 5,000 U.S.troops to the southern border, even though experts noted that the troops would have little to do there considering the existing border patrol buildup. Ironically, at least one of the deployed troops was himself an undocumented immigrant.
The election-time fear-mongering did have real-world consequences. Horrifically, it appeared that the unfounded demonization of the migrant caravan was a motivating factor in the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
In the end, Trump’s racist and xenophobic closing argument backfired. Despite Trump’s attempts to stir up a fear of immigrants in exchange for votes, this year’s midterms were the greatest Democratic pickup since Watergate, and saw the effectual death of the Republican Party in California. Polling has further shown that this year’s anti-immigrant attacks were central to the GOP’s stunning defeat.
Mass deportations were one of the first ways the Trump Administration made its mark on immigration policy. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, immigrants who had been granted stays of removal under the Obama Administration found themselves being called in, detained, and deported even though they had lived in the U.S. for decades. Meanwhile, “unshackled” ICE and CBP agents found themselves newly empowered to arrest immigrants at churches, courthouses, schools, and other “sensitive” locations. Below is a summary of what has happened with ICE, CBP, detention, and deportations this year:
It is clear that Trump has been willing to turn a blind eye to the white nationalist ties and hate group affiliations that his advisers and allies have brought to the White House. First and foremost, Trump continues to keep white nationalist Stephen Miller as a close top adviser, and some have noted that Miller may be the only aide outside of Trump’s family the president still trusts. Two leading officials, Ian Smith at the Department of Homeland Security and Darren Beattie, a White House speechwriter, were fired this year after news reports highlighted their connections to white nationalism. Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, however, remains at the White House even after his long friendship with white nationalist Peter Brimelow was reported by the Washington Post this year.
At least four top Trump officials this year took part in events hosted by hate groups founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Tanton, originally a Michigan ophthalmologist, began to build a network of anti-immigrant organizations in the 1970’s including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), both of which are now listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In May, James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, met with CIS for a conversation about immigration courts. Thomas Homan, then-acting director of ICE, appeared during a CIS event in June. Lee Francis Cissna, the director of the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), spoke at a CIS event about legal immigration in August. Ronald Vitiello, then acting director of ICE, attended FAIR’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. in September, along with a number of anti-immigrant sheriffs that FAIR helped bring to town, who then met with Trump and Mike Pence. We should also not forget the numerous staffers throughout the Trump Administration who have a history of working for or associating with John Tanton’s anti-immigrant network.