Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants Part II: Legal Refugee Migration

In Part I, I dealt with DT’s ostensible support for more legal immigration, in particular, attracting immigrants who are very highly skilled and well resourced. Then why deny work authorization permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders? Why limit their ability to travel abroad? Further, DT’s efforts to limit family-sponsored migration stood out as being at odds with such a goal since many highly-skilled and well-resourced migrants want to be able to subsequently sponsor parents and adult children, particularly if they come from Asia or Africa. But the policy also applies to citizens with a Mexican heritage and sponsoring siblings. As one immigration lawyer put it in a case of a Mexican-American trying to sponsor his sister, “right now the processing time is looking like at least 20 years, if not longer.”

DT’s attacks on the lottery system which supports diversity and migration from countries that historically were underrepresented in the cohorts who had applied to migrate to the U.S., such as African countries, suggested that racism might possibly be the motive behind the criticism of the diversity lottery system, especially given DT’s record of discrimination against blacks in his family’s housing projects in Queens and, more recently, when he hosted his television show and was reported by Michael Cohen, his lawyer at the time, saying that he had not chosen Kwame Jackson, the black Goldman Sachs banker, to win in season 1, because, “There’s no way I can let this black fag win.”

DT has put in place hurdle after hurdle to the ease in obtaining a Green Card or permanent residency in the U.S. by:

  • Slowing down the processing of applications – the backlog increased by 35% by the end of 2017
  • Requiring in-person interviews with all applicants
  • Adding restrictions to applications for naturalization from non-citizens serving in the U.S. military and rescinding the policy of offering military recruits expedited citizenship after they complete their basic training
  • Limiting access to health and welfare benefits to immigrant applicants while DT lied openly about their abuse of federal assistance
  • Redefined and restricted eligibility for “specialty occupations” such as a computer programmer, as well as “employment” and “employer-employee relationship,” to reduce the numbers who qualify
  • An October 2017 policy memo gave visa officers the discretion to treat visa renewals in the same manner as new applications
  • Granting immigration officers absolute discretion to deny applications if there are any errors in the application, however minor, and, further, to initiate deportation proceedings immediately.

DT undermined and undercut a perfectly legal route to migrate to the U.S. under the American humanitarian refugee program. He:

  • initially suspended the refugee admissions program
  • reduced the number of humanitarian refugee admissions into the U.S from 110,000 in 2016 to 50,000 in 1917 and reduced the intake in 2018 to 20,000 even though the target was 45,000; he set a target of 30,000 for 2019, the lowest number in almost forty years.

DT’s claim that he supports increased legal migration is also undercut by his strong opposition and the policies he has put in place to decrease the ability of individuals to arrive at an American border, whether in an airport or on the southern border, who legally and properly want to claim Convention refugee status. What actions did he take?

  • Endorsed the practice of immigration patrol officers turning people away from legal points of entry when they indicate that they want to claim refugee status
  • Rescinded the right of all asylum seekers to a hearing before an immigration judge and permitting denial if the adjudicator determines upon initial review that the claim is fraudulent or has a low chance of success
  • Reduced the categories under which asylum claimants could justify that they were targeted from persecution, such as denying the right of an applicant to claim refugee status because he or she had been a target of spousal or gang violence
  • Limited the border crossings at which asylum claims could be filed
  • Enhanced vetting for refugee asylum applicants from 11 countries deemed to be “high-risk” – Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • Limited the discretion accorded to refugee adjudication officers to positively approve claims
  • Absolutely barred entry to anyone, including asylum claimants, who come from specific Muslim countries.

All of these initiatives have been taken against a background in which the DT administration removed the language of the Statue of Liberty that celebrated America as a land which welcomed immigrants.

What lies behind these changes? Some are innocuous. Some are simply changes in the administration of immigrant and refugee movements to ensure improvements in processing. But many, if not most of the changes, are intended, not to calm fears citizens have of strangers, but to instill and roil those fears because:

  • Current citizens view newcomers as increased competition for jobs that they want
  • A belief that supporting migrants, and especially refugees, will create greater tax burdens on themselves
  • Still others believe that existing opportunities only provide the initial wedge to developing a totally open-door policy
  • Others base their resistance to resentment at literally changing the face of America and efforts to increase legal immigration are undercut by a nativist agenda.
  • For still others, it is an expression of their strong patriotism that in the end boils down to nativist narrow nationalism.

The reality, however, is that the majority of Americans are NOT driven to resist immigration by a mythological nostalgia for the past and a better America. Polling repeatedly demonstrates that a majority of Americans do not believe that immigration should decline. Although Trump trumpets his support for more legal immigration, the administration of even legal immigration suggests a white nationalist agenda. Ignoring the deterrent administrative initiatives to legal migration, legislation that Trump has supported would probably halve traditional legal levels. When administrative and legal initiatives are combined, the effect on traditional patterns of legal migration would be devastating.

However, as everyone knows, the most sensational news concerns illegal migration. Tomorrow morning, I will address that issue under the title of “The Balderdash of Barriers at the Border.”

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