WASHINGTON ― From the day he launched his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has made it pretty clear what he wants America to look like. He doesn’t want Mexico’s “bad people,” immigrants from countries he did or did not describe as “shithole nations,” or refugees he says are a “Trojan horse” seeking to do Americans harm.
And he’s made some progress in carrying out that vision. Trump has moved to terminate temporary protections for more than a million people, effectively telling a population the size of Rhode Island to either leave the country or face deportation. He’s looking to make it harder for asylum-seekers to find refuge in the U.S. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested more than 140,000 immigrants last fiscal year, while building up a force that will aim to detain tens of thousands more.
Trump’s latest efforts to curb immigration came on Friday, when the Department of Homeland Security announced it will end temporary protected status, or TPS, for immigrants from Honduras. That means 57,000 Hondurans who found refuge in the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch wrecked their country in 1998 will have to leave or find another legal status by 2020.
The move didn’t come as a surprise. In the past year, the Trump administration has done the same for about 200,000 TPS holders from El Salvador, 46,000 from Haiti, 9,000 from Nepal, 2,500 from Nicaragua and 1,000 from Sudan, and for 4,000 Liberians who were in the U.S. on another type of temporary visa. The administration has effectively decimated TPS, announcing plans to terminate its protections for about 98 percent of current recipients, based on the argument that conditions in their native countries have improved.
Trump also put the futures of some 690,000 undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children in jeopardy when he terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last fall. The president argued he was forced to end the DACA program because it was unconstitutional and said lawmakers should instead create a legal solution for these Dreamers, as they’re known. But those efforts failed ― in part when Trump demanded major concessions in exchange ― and Dreamers remain in a precarious position. They’re currently safe because court rulings have kept DACA running in part, but that could change, and they could yet again risk losing protections that have let them live and work without fear.
That’s more than a million people in total who have been living and working legally in the U.S. who, thanks to Trump, now face an uncertain future, one in which they may be driven out of the workforce, ripped away from their families and sent back to countries ― some of them dangerous ― that they haven’t seen in years.
If they stay without authorization, TPS and DACA recipients could be caught up in a deportation system that is increasingly sweeping up people without criminal records. The Trump administration has said repeatedly that no one is exempt from enforcement and that it won’t look the other way if it finds another undocumented immigrant while looking for one of its targets. About 17 percent of the people deported from the interior of the country last year were noncriminals, a massive jump from the year before, when people without criminal convictions made up 8 percent of the removals from the interior.
As the Trump administration works to expel immigrants from the U.S., it is working to make it harder for new immigrants to enter the country.
During the presidential campaign, Trump said that he wanted to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the country. He didn’t do that, exactly, but did order a string of travel bans that targeted immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations. Although courts blocked large parts of the bans, other vetting measures have contributed to dramatically lower immigration levels from those countries.
The president singled out Syrian refugees and tried in his first travel ban to indefinitely shut down resettlement of Syrians into the U.S. That, too, was blocked, but Syrian refugee admission numbers are minuscule. Only 11 Syrian refugees came to the U.S. from January to the end of March.
Refugee admissions in general have dropped dramatically, all while the world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with many people displaced by wars that the U.S. plays a role in. In Trump’s first year in office, the U.S. admitted 53,700 refugees, down from 85,000 the year before and less than half of the number set for the year by former President Barack Obama before he left office.
This fiscal year, the numbers are even more stark. The U.S. admitted only 10,500 refugees in the first six months, which means it’s unlikely to even reach the ceiling of 45,000 set for the year ― which was already 10,000 less than the previous year, and 40,000 less than the one before that.
He would exclude more immigrants if he could. “They’re not sending their finest,” he said Friday of migrants apprehended at the border. “That I can tell you. We’re getting some real beauties in here.”
Trump wants to end the diversity visa lottery, which allows many people from African countries to move to the U.S., and to limit family-based migration, which he derisively refers to as “chain migration.” He is also seeking policy changes that would allow the government to detain and deport more people who seek asylum at the border, rather than releasing them into the U.S. while their cases are being heard.
This is our home. We’re going to fight as much as possible to stay here. Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of the advocacy group United We Dream
In sum, the trend is to restrict immigration.
“The Trump administration has been very consistent. Wherever it has discretion about a group of people or a program, it tends to err on the more restrictive side,” said Randy Capps of the nonpartisan think tank Migration Policy Institute.
To immigration activists, Trump’s goals are pretty obvious.
“The jig was up after his comments about shithole countries,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, a Dreamer with DACA status and executive director of the advocacy group United We Dream. “There’s no mincing of his words, and that’s why we’re not mincing ours. He’s not only anti-immigrant, but he’s a threat to people of color in this country.”
But it’s unclear whether that’s what Americans actually want. Forty-one percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of immigration, versus 52 percent who do not, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released in April. There’s widespread support among voters for giving legal status to Dreamers who benefit from DACA, although so far it hasn’t translated to any action from Congress.
“I don’t think a Trump rally represents the majority of Americans on the question of immigration,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the advocacy group National Immigration Forum. “Yes, people have serious questions about the issue but I’m not sure they like the way Trump is answering those questions.”
In addition, Noorani says, now that Trump is following through on campaign promises on immigration, many people experience direct effects on their businesses and communities and it changes their opinion. And there’s only so much Trump can do. The demographic trends of the country would be nearly impossible to stop, especially without major changes to legal immigration that would require congressional action. The Senate has rejected the president’s immigration policy platform, which would have included legal protections for DACA-eligible immigrants but also restricted legal immigration pathways and made it easier to reject people who request asylum.
Terminating DACA and TPS wouldn’t guarantee all of those individuals would leave the country, either. Even without legal protections, both Dreamers and TPS holders might stay in the U.S. because they have built lives here, or because they believe their native country is too dangerous, even if Homeland Security doesn’t.
“This is our home,” Martinez Rosas said. “We’re going to fight as much as possible to stay here.”