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From the moment Donald Trump descended the Trump Tower escalator to launch his presidential bid in 2015, his attacks on immigrants has been unrelenting. We recapped the Administration’s cruel and inhumane changes to immigration policy in 2017 and 2018, but more than halfway through his Administration, the ways in which the White House is making life worse for immigrants in America has only continued to intensify.
More than two years of dehumanizing immigrants and practicing a failed deterrence-only strategy has produced a humanitarian crisis at the border and created a culture inside the Trump Administration where children are denied soap and toothbrushes and where migrants have no access running water. Children are still being separated at the border, while thousands of CBP agents are members of a blatantly racist and sexist Facebook group. Meanwhile, a majority of the American people (62 percent) disapprove of Trump’s handling of immigation.
Here is a summary of immigration policy and White House changes to it in the first half of 2019:
Last April, the Administration announced their “zero-tolerance” policy, which resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their families. Two months later, a court mandated the immediate reunification of the 2,737 children the Administration had identified as separated. However, an OIG report released in January 2019 said that “thousands” more children than previously recognized had been taken away from their parents. In May, a court-ordered review found at least 1,712 more children who had been separated — once again underscoring the Administration’s callous lack of interest in being able to reunite families. Meanwhile, officials like DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen constantly lied to Congress about the policy and the conditions that children were facing.
More reporting this year revealed that the Administration’s family separation policy was made worse by its willful ignorance to the long-term harms suffered by families and children. Buzzfeed reported on internal e-mails which showed Nielsen did not even give agents guidelines on how the policy should be implemented until a full month after it was in effect and well after thousands of children had been separated. Under questioning from Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) on March 6, 2019, Nielsen said she was unfamiliar with the research of how traumatizing family separation can be. And in June of this year, NBC News reported that at least one botched reunification resulted in children being held for two nights in a van last July in Texas before being reunited with their families.
The Administration continues to separate families. A report in March by the New York Times found that more than 200 migrant children have been separated since the Administration supposedly rescinded the policy. Trump has pushed to formally reinstate the family separation policy despite the fact that it is a deterrence failure. The Administration has considered implementing a new version of the policy which forces migrants to choose between separation and indefinite family detention.
Even beyond the “zero tolerance” family separation policy, the Administration has shown inhumane levels of cruelty toward migrant children and their families. This year, at least seven children have died in the Administration’s custody or shortly after being released. The White House has argued that providing soap and toothbrushes to children was not necessary to meet basic safety and sanitary standards; refused to give children hot food; and refused to provide sufficient food, leaving kids to wake up in the middle of the night with hunger pains. One doctor who inspected a detention center compared them to “torture facilities” and said that many “infants and children are losing weight because of the quality and quantity of food being provided.” The facilities holding children also keep the lights on 24 hours a day. Some detained minors said they were sexually assaulted and were retaliated against for protesting their treatment.
The Administration’s treatment of children was condemned by the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet: “As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” said Bachelet.
In addition, lawyers — who were only able to interview a small fraction of the children held in detention — found children covered in mucus, children taking sole responsibility caring for other children, toddlers who lacked diapers, and children sleeping on cold floors. These conditions led experts to warn of a looming health crisis resulting from the long-term trauma the Administration is inflicting on these children.
The government itself has found unacceptable conditions. One DHS Inspector General’s report found that in three Rio Grande Valley facilities, unaccompanied minors and families had no access to showers, while the children there had limited change of clothes.
The Administration has also wanted to cancel English classes, soccer, and legal aid for unaccompanied child migrants. And some children, upon arrival, have had their critical medicines confiscated and their few personal belongings thrown away.
In addition to wretched conditions, the Administration has illegally been holding hundreds of children far past the legal limits, subjecting some minors to abject conditions for over three months. The Administration has also sought to roll back protections for children, so they can legally detain them for months at a time. The White House has even considered housing some 1,200 children at Japanese-American internment camp sites from WWII.
The Administration is not limiting their attacks to recently-arrived migrant children: in May 2019, the White House floated a plan to restrict housing aid in a way that could evict 55,000 children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents from their homes.
The courts continue to block the Administration’s efforts to end DACA. In May, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed the only lower court ruling that has been made in Trump’s favor on DACA. The court said that Administration’s decision to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” — a similar conclusion to the 9th Circuit’s decision from last year.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Administration’s request to speed up the court process, skip the appeals step, and take DACA directly to the Supreme Court. However, later in the month, the Supreme Court said they would take up the case and hear arguments some time in October.
Even as the courts have blocked the Administration’s attempt to strip DACA recipients of their protections, the White House has continued to try and attack Dreamers. They have targeted DACA recipients and their families for detention and deportation. Reporting by Buzzfeed and others found that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) changed a policy to deny housing loans to DACA recipients.
While the House overwhelmingly passed the Dream and Promise Act in June 2019, the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to take action, leaving DACA in the limbo status it has been in since Trump tried to end the program in 2017. Though Dreamers who have previously had DACA are still able to renew status for now, there are hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers who have aged into the program without being able to apply for protections.
The June 2019 Dream and Promise Act was bundled with legislation protecting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients, so the Republican Senate’s failure to pass the overall bill has also left TPS and DED holders without permanent protections. Many recipients have lived in the U.S. for decades and have U.S. citizen children. Without legislation that adjusts their status, families could be ripped apart — creating another family separation crisis.
Courts continue to block the Administration’s efforts to end TPS protections. In March, a federal district court ordered that protections for TPS recipients from Nepal and Honduras remain intact, attaching their case to one that extending protections for recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.
DED protections have also remained intact for now, but they are not covered by the above court orders. Last year, Trump sent a wave of fear throughout the Liberian immigrant community after an abrupt announcement indicating the end of the DED program. Then, just before the extension deadline, DHS extended protections for DED recipients for an additional year. Without legislation, however, TPS and DED recipients continue to live in limbo, their lives subject to court rulings and/or the Trump Administration’s next decision on whether to extend status.
Despite repeated calls for the Administration to create a TPS designation for Venezuelans, acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinnelli has indicated that they will not be doing so.
The Trump Administration’s recent attacks on immigrants have in large part focused on asylum seekers and the laws that protect those who come to the U.S. seeking safety. Trump has continued to push a failed deterrence-only strategy that stands in contrast to the U.S.’ international and humanitarian obligations. Here are some of the asylum changes the Administration has made or announced this year.
Remain in Mexico: At the end of last year, the Administration announced new “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) that forced migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico during the process. In April, courts allowed the Administration to begin the program even as lawsuits were filed against the proposal. By May, the Administration had sent some 6,000 asylum seekers to Mexico to wait, and it became clear that this policy was a disaster. Migrants who were originally told they would be in Mexico for 45 days were told they were actually facing almost a year long wait. Migrants endured over-crowded conditions, a lack of access to attorneys, no resources to meet even their most basic needs, and no way to build their asylum cases. Some faced further violence and kidnappings, as they were forced to wait in one of the most dangerous states in Mexico — where the U.S. government warns against travel.
By June, the number of migrants forced to wait had swelled to over 15,000, and the Administration’s only response was to begin mass video conference proceedings, which raised immediate due process concerns. The situation remains so terrible that U.S. asylum officers have filed suit against the policy, saying that MPP is “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation.” The desperation conditions of migrants being forced to wait is leading some of them to try and cross without seeking asylum, a dangerous gambit that led to the tragic deaths of a father and child who drowned in the Rio Grande in June.
Attempting to bar all asylum seekers: The Trump Administration also tried to bar almost all asylum seekers from the U.S. through a July 15 rule change, which would require every asylum seeker to seek asylum in any country they cross before reaching the U.S. This highly suspect rule is being challenged in court, but if implemented would create a bureaucratic barrier that would practically void U.S. asylum laws.
Other asylum changes from the Trump Administration:
Here are a few of the consequences of the Administration’s changes to our refugee policies:
The Trump Administration’s assault on asylum and refugee resettlement has only been one plank in its broader attack on pathways for “legal” immigration. They have also slowed the legalization process for immigrants already in the U.S. who are trying to obtain permanent status or citizenship, thereby making it harder for people who have the right to be in the country to stay.
New data released this year shows that wait times for green cards and citizenship applications have doubled over the last two years. As David Bier at the CATO Institute wrote, without reforms “wait times will become impossibly long,” rendering such paths useless.
Last year, the Administration proposed changes to “public charge” policies, suggesting that immigrants who utilize services would have a harder time obtaining permanent resident status or citizenship; the Administration suggested they would go even further this year, by greatly expanding the definition of who is a “public charge.” A report by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 8.3 million children (many U.S. citizens) could lose both health insurance and food assistance, including some 5.5 million children with specific medical needs.
Following in his predecessor’s footsteps, Attorney General William Barr has continued Jeff Sessions’ efforts to use his power over immigration court to limit migrants’ ability to remain in the country. Like Sessions, Barr has begun selecting individual cases to personally overrule in order to ensure deportation and set new precedent. In one example, Barr sought to almost entirely eliminate detained migrants’ ability to receive a bond hearing. Barr’s decision received widespread condemnation for its attempt to do away with due process, leading 55 members of Congress to sign a letter opposing the change. The courts agreed: in July, federal courts blocked Barr’s decision as an unconstitutional impediment to due process.
Barr also proposed a new rule change in April that would make it easier for a limited number of judges on the Board of Immigration Appeals to set precedent for the entire system. Jeffrey Chase, a former immigration judge and former senior legal adviser to the immigration appeals court, said the changes would “add up to taking away due process and speeding people through to their deportation in some sort of assembly-line substitute for justice.” After significant public criticism, Barr slightly amended the rule change, but the Board of Immigration Appeals is now allowed to issue binding decisions about immigration law. This new rule gives the Attorney General more power to direct which appellate decisions should become precedent, shaping all the immigration decisions made by hundreds of immigration judges.
During the Trump Administration, ICE has stepped up workplace raids, and in April, ICE arrested nearly 300 immigrants, mostly women, in the largest workplace raid in nearly a decade. The raid occurred at CVE Technology Group, a Samsung-vetted repair warehouse just outside of Dallas, Texas. The surrounding community quickly rallied to support the workers and to protest the ICE raid.
Under Trump, CBP has also increased searches at Greyhound bus stations, including on buses not even traveling across the U.S. border. CBP has made the legally dubious claim that they can search any vehicle within 100 miles of the U.S. border without a warrant, but advocates have pointed out that these searches are highly susceptible to racial profiling. One Border Patrol official in Maine told his agents “Happy hunting!” in relation to the Greyhound bus searches.
While the Administration has continued its practice of indiscriminate raids, some officials reportedly pushed back against a plan for an unprecedented nationwide raid targeting thousands of adults and children. The plan was rejected due to logistical and legal concerns, rather than due to ethical arguments. The Administration continues to threaten massive raids and deportations, forcing families to stay at home and avoid routine habits, but as of this writing there have not yet been massive numbers of increased pickups in the interior of the U.S.
In July, the Administration announced a plan for expedited removals, in which they want to be able to quickly remove any immigrant who cannot prove legal status or their continuous presence in the U.S. for the last two years. As advocates noted, the expedited removals plan is hugely dangerous, because it allows any immigration official to target anyone — U.S. citzen or immigrant, legal or undocumented — and demand proof of status. Those who cannot quickly prove legal status or continuous presence may find themselves detained (with no access to a lawyer) or even deported.
There was, however, good news from the courts limiting the extent of the Administration’s deportation powers. In June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an undocumented worker who was arrested in a massive workplace raid in 2008 should not be deported because his arrest was outside the parameters of ICE’s search warrant. Though the raid occurred under the George W. Bush Administration, the tactic of sweeping up hundreds of migrants in indiscriminate raids has been a central feature under Trump, and the ruling could provide relief to immigrants who were picked up when they weren’t targets. And following a 2018 lawsuit, ICE was barred from conducting any more unannounced raids on Cambodian immigrants living in the U.S. with deportation orders. ICE must now give notice 14 days prior to detaining a Cambodian nationals living in the U.S. — offering some level of protection to some 1,900 Cambodian-Americans with deportation orders, many of whom have lived in the U.S. since they were children.
Even as ICE has stepped up its workplace raids, it has conspicuously avoided scrutiny of one particular employer: Donald Trump and his family’s businesses. In late December 2018, undocumented housekeepers who worked at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster began speaking out about the golf course’s habit of hiring workers without papers. In some cases, supervisors at the golf club even helped immigrant workers procure fake papers. These workers cooked, cleaned, gardened, and helped take care of Trump’s business in Bedminster and other locations — but in return, they were physically and verbally abused, exploited, and (when reporters came knocking) dismissed without warning.
These workers say that there have been hundreds of undocumented workers that have labored for the Trump organization and that their exploitation has been central to his business model. In fact, one former worker from Costa Rica said “my whole town practically lived there,” referring to the pipeline of Central American undocumented workers the Trump Organization used to run its businesses.
Anibal Romero, attorney for the undocumented Trump workers, called Trump’s hiring practices “a criminal conspiracy.” As we laid out elsewhere, the “potential criminal charges against the Trump Organization include trafficking, conspiracy, false document procurement, and forced or coerced labor. The Trump Organization could also be exposed to additional tax, labor, and civil liabilities if the allegations are investigated and found to be true.”
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked the Trump Administration over its efforts to add the dubious citizenship question to the 2020 census, saying the Administration’s thinly-veiled excuses were inadequate justification. Despite the ruling, however, the Trump Administration spent several days sending mixed signals and continuing to push forward with the idea, even suggesting an executive order adding the question and switching out the government lawyers who had been arguing the case.
In the months beforehand, new emails had come to light underscoring the completely political nature of the citizenship question. They revealed that the Trump Administration and its backers — contrary to public declarations about why they wanted to add a citizenship question — were interested in the move because of how much it might dampen Latino participation and pad demographic margins for Republicans. Even though the Trump Administration has now seemingly given up the attempt to add a citizenship question, advocates worry that the damage has already been done and that communities of color will resist taking the census.
The Trump Administration has received rebuke after rebuke from the courts for its attempts to strip funding from local governments that have safe-city laws (aka “sanctuary cities”). In February, a federal judge put a permanent injunction on the Administration’s efforts to make federal funding to safe cities conditional on immmigration enforcement. Praising the decision, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said, the “Trump administration’s efforts to make Los Angeles complicit in civil immigration enforcement undermines local decisions about how we can best keep our streets safe.”
Finding itself blocked on this front, the Administration then announced that it wanted to transport migrants solely to safe cities as a political stunt. Top ICE officials opposed the plan, citing budgetary and liability concerns with such a move, and noting that there would be “PR risks as well.” Trump continues to favor the proposal, however: “I’m proud to tell you that was actually my sick idea,” Trump said at a rally.
In May, the Administration created a new workaround to deputize local police officers as immigration agents. Created by ICE, the new Warrant Service Officer program (WSO) is meant to act as 287(g) agreements for rural areas. Like the controversial 287(g) program, the WSO program allows local law enforcement departments to hold immigrants after they would otherwise would be released, if asked to do so by ICE. And like the 287(g) agreements, the WSO program is being challenged over its unneccesary costs and dubious legality. Some municipalities are joining WSO, while others are pulling out after mounting community pressure to do so.
As Trump kicks off his reelection campaign, it has become clear that he wants to use a divisive strategy of anti-immigrant fearmongering in order to turn out his base, even at the cost of attracting new supporters. In the early weeks and months of the campaign, Trump has threatened mass deportations, announced expedited removals, attempted to shut down all asylum cases, allowed the humanitarian crisis at the border to fester, and much more.
Long before Trump’s official kick-off, the campaign had been spending millions of dollars on Facebook, targeting older voters with nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric and themes. By April 2019, Trump’s campaign had spent $4.5 million on Facebook and Google ads, and well over half (54 percent) involved fears about immigration.
Trump has apparently committed to this strategy despite evidence that it failed in 2017 and 2018. In both the 2017 election (in states like Virginia and New Jersey) and the 2018 midterms, fearmongering was not a winning strategy for candidates: many of those who ran the most extremist campaigns lost as the ugly rhetoric motivated pro-immigrant voters of color to turn out. Even with Trump on the ballot in 2020, his nativist strategy to double down on supporters while doing nothing to attract moderates may not be enough this time around.
Two years of dehumanizing rhetoric and a complete lack of accountability have produced abhorrent cultures inside both Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that have eschewed accountability. Reports from migrants held in custody, lawyers, doctors, members of Congress, and even the government itself have documented a mountain of abuses from these agencies; here are some of the lowlights from the first half of 2019:
Trump’s obsession with a border wall began as a campaign mnemonic device, then turned into a racist rally chant — but one thing the border wall has never been about has been national security. Trump started the year continuing his government shutdown over Congress’ refusal to fund the wall. The shutdown continued for 35 days, the longest in history, holding federal workers’ paychecks hostage for over a month. Ultimately, Trump agreed to almost the exact same deal he was offered before he shut down the government.
After the government shutdown failed to produce the full results Trump wanted, Trump announced a fake national emergency in an attempt to usurp Congress’ power of the purse. His stunt threatened the Constitutional balance of powers, and national security experts warned that Trump’s fake emergency undermined national security. Trump even declared, while making the national emergency announcement, that he knew such a move was unnecessary. His national emergency was also widely opposed by the American people, with thousands taking to the streets to oppose the move. Both houses of Congress voted against the declaration, forcing Trump to issue his first-ever veto. Trump’s fake emergency also sought to seize land from private citizens and divert funds from military construction projects.
A ruling by the 9th Circuit found that we are “best served by respecting the Constitution’s assignment of the power of the purse to Congress, and by deferring to Congress’s understanding of the public interest as reflected in its repeated denial of more funding for border barrier construction”. But in July, the Supreme Court unfortunately agreed that Trump could begin taking money from military projects to fund his wall.
Trump’s failure to build his wall so far has not stopped him from claiming victory. One of Trump’s most frequent lies involves the deception that his border wall is being built, and he has repeated this lie 172 times between the start of his Administration and June 2019.
In lieu of building his wall, Trump has continued to deploy an unnecessary number of troops to the southern border, where they have, among other things, painted barriers already in place to make them more aesthetically pleasing.
The Trump Administration has shown a preference for a chaotic and rotating cast of characters who have served as temporary acting leaders of various agencies. This has allowed it to bypass the Senate on confirmation-necessary positions, even for sensitive and critical jobs. Many of the Administration’s appointees have been distinguished less by their qualifications and more by their outspoken support of the Trump Administration and regular appearances on cable news programs. A number of Department of Homeland Security officials were purged earlier this year by Stephen Miller, arguably the most notable Administration official to hold onto his post throughout the Trump presidency so far. Here is a list of the notable immigration-related personnel changes:
The Trump Administration continues to have a white nationalist problem, not least of which is the continued presence of white nationalist Stephen Miller. In addition, the Administration also continues to expand its relationships with hate groups and white nationalists. Here are some of the new connections:
The Trump Administration has employed a failed all-stick-no-carrot approach to the flow of asylum seekers at our southern border. In June, Trump cut hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, in a wrong-headed attempt to stop migrants (experts agree that more aid to the Central American region is necessary to decrease outflows). Trump’s final cuts were slightly less than originally announced, but five former US military chiefs and more than one hundred members of Congress condemned the move.
In another ill advised effort, Trump has also lashed out at Mexico, threatening to implement tariffs if they didn’t block more migrants seeking asylum from reaching the U.S. border. The Mexican government sent thousands of members of their national guard to the border as a response to Trump’s threat, but little is expected to change from Trump’s deal with Mexico.
As conflict and instability swirls in Venezuela, the Administration has been happy to play politics and hint at intervention in the region, but it has refused to extend TPS protections to Venezuelans in the U.S., which would protect them from possible deportation.