Trump’s administration can immediately start making life harder for immigrants

The president has a lot of authority over immigration policy.

Immigrant rights advocates demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration policies, during a rally at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Immigrant rights advocates demonstrate against President-elect Donald Trump’s immigration policies, during a rally at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

The final days for undocumented immigrants to feel safe in the United States have now come to a close.

As he enters the White House, President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies are already underway. He is expected to sign a number of executive orders that will impact millions of immigrants and their family members.

“It starts with getting the bad ones,” Trump told reporters in November 2015. “Day one. If I win, day one of my presidency, they’re getting out. We’re getting them out. We’re getting them out fast.”

It’s still unclear how quickly Trump will actually move on immigration policy, but the executive branch has broad authority over this area.


A Democratic aide, who asked to remain anonymous speaking on the record about the incoming administration, told ThinkProgress that “we think the new president will start on a very sour note” to immediately roll back protection for immigrants and refugees with “a sweep of his pen.”

“The anti-immigration advocates who populate the new administration will take aim at DACA, political asylum, refugees, legal immigration, and anything President Obama did that the opponents of immigration oppose,” he said.

Based on conversations with advocates who spoke with sources within the Trump transition team, here’s what Trump could do.

1. Revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative.

What Trump has said. According to his immigration policy website, Trump plans to “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties,” referring to the DACA initiative and its companion initiative, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to expand legal protection for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. Under DACA and DAPA, the Obama administration set out to grant deportation relief and work authorization in two-year increments to undocumented immigrants.


The first step that the Trump administration could take. As early as his first day in office, Trump could immediately sign an executive order to undo DACA, which would strip recipients of their ability to legally work. Immigrant advocates believe that the “easiest” way for the Trump administration to revoke DACA would be to allow work permits to naturally expire and not allow beneficiaries to renew their work authorization cards.

Who this would impact. The revocation of DACA would affect 752,000 current recipients who have since been allowed to apply for employment authorization cards that give them the legal ability to work in the formal economy and pay taxes. Immigrants will have to quit their jobs once these employment cards expire. All DACA recipients would become eligible for deportation, so any sort of contact with law enforcement could put them at risk of detention.

“This will have dire consequences across the board not only for their ability to be confident that they will remain with their families, but also for their ability to remain employed, stay in school, obtain a driver’s license, and keep up with mortgage and car payments,” Tom Jawetz, Vice President of Immigration of Center for American Progress, said on a press call Thursday. “The economy will take a hit and businesses in every sector will suffer, as talented workers are forced out of work.”

2. Restrict immigration from majority-Muslim countries.

What Trump has said. Trump has called for a “complete and total ban” of Muslim immigration into the United States. Trump has since said he would limit “immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur,” focusing his efforts on nationality over religion.

“We need to get control of our borders and we need to get control of our immigration system, and we can do it in a very smart and methodical way that ensures that the priority is first and foremost people who seek to cause us harm or who are a danger in a community,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said.


The first step that the Trump administration could take. The president could enforce a law to suspend or limit the entry of people considered “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” according to the New York Times, pointing out that Obama did something similar in 2011 to “restrict the international travel and to suspend the entry into the United States” of immigrants and visitors who “participate in serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. But the law has never been used to deny entry on the scale of millions.

Who this would impact. The United States doesn’t screen for religion when people enter the country, but Trump could exclude certain countries where a majority of the population are Muslims. If he decides to cut off migration flows to countries where at least 50 percent of the population identifies as a Muslim — which would include most Middle Eastern countries — up to one million people would be affected every year, according to the New York Times. Roughly 675,000 people from 29 countries would be affected if Trump limited the ban to countries with a 90 percent Muslim population, the publication estimated, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

3. Build a wall along the southern U.S. border.

What Trump has said. Trump has often promised that he will build a “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” that he claims will be financed by Mexico. An opaque wall could be harmful for agents who can’t see who’s trying to cross, though Trump has said he is willing to see fencing at some points along the 1,900-mile long border.

The first step that the Trump administration could take. The cost of a border wall, independent of maintenance and border patrol agents, could range from about $3 billion to $14 billion. Congressional Republicans have discussed using a 2006 law to authorize the construction of a “physical barrier” along more than 700 miles of the southern border.

Who this would impact. About 170,000 people crossed the southern U.S. border in 2015, a number that’s down from previous years — which means that ramped-up border enforcement has been working to stem the flow of border crossings, the Arizona Republic reported in October 2016. A 2013 Human Rights Watch report found that as many as 85,00 people who illegally re-entered the country after they had been deported did so because they wanted to reunite with their families.

4. Block entry to people who want to seek refuge in the United States.

What Trump has said. The president has promised that refugees, particularly those from Syria, will not be able to resettle in this country. “I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of a mass migration, that if I win, they are going back,” Trump said in 2015.

He has not specifically targeted asylum seekers, but like refugees, these people are seeking humanitarian relief to permanently stay in the United States because they are unable to return to dire conditions back in their countries. Refugees apply within their home countries, while they undergo a stringent process before they are accepted, while people can ask for asylum at a U.S. port of entry. Both legal processes are protected by international law and the UN Convention Against Torture.

The first step that the Trump administration could take. Current refugees and asylum seekers within the United States won’t be affected. But the 1980 Refugee Act gives screening authority of refugees and asylum seekers to the executive branch. Trump has authority to set the ceiling for the number of refugees accepted into the United States, including the country of origin. Obama increased the number of refugee admitted from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 in 2017. Trump could take that figure down to zero, but he will need to do it in consultation with Congress. Together, both the executive and legislative branches can come up with a budget to allocate to the agencies involved with refugee resettlement.

Trump could also limit entry to asylum seekers from Latin America once they arrive on the southern U.S. border. That’s because the executive branch oversees the Bureau of Immigration Appeals and the immigration judges who adjudicate most asylum claims within the Department of Justice, so he can modify policies that bring people into the country.

Who this would impact. Any limit to the humanitarian process would affect the growing number of unaccompanied minors and families who continue to flee poverty and gang violence in Central America. Other people affected by the southern border restriction include hundreds of Haitians and Cuban asylum seekers unable to cross into the United States, the latter because of Obama’s recent decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, following a normalization of relations with Cuba.

Restricting access to protection concerns immigrant advocates who are afraid that people aren’t being properly screened before they’re turned away. “If Trump is serious about enforcing rule of law at the border, that must include protecting refugees from return to harm under longstanding international human rights treaties,” Grace Meng, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in an email to ThinkProgress.

5. Restrict immigration from visa waiver countries with exceptions.

What Trump has said. The Visa Waiver Program has made travel easier from Western European countries allowing people to travel to the United States for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. But, as part of his overall approach to immigration policy that specifically targets people from Muslim countries, Trump has said he wants to get rid of the program entirely. During a March 2016 interview, he cited security concerns.

“Yeah, it’s time to stop that, absolutely,” Trump said in the interview, referencing the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, which he blamed on “radicalized” Muslims. “And frankly look, we’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country.”

The first step that the Trump administration could take. Just as Obama’s White House had done to add more security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program after the terrorist attack in Paris, Trump could also work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to make significant changes to the program.

Who this would impact. Upwards of 20 million visitors from 38 countries would be unable to take advantage of the visa-free travel when they visit the United States. The last time the U.S. government made changes to this program was in 2015, tourists from visa-free countries became ineligible to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program if they had traveled to or been in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011.

One piece of good news for undocumented immigrants is that — despite Trump’s repeated promises — it will be impossible for the Trump administration to deport millions of people immediately. They are entitled to see an immigration judge to appeal their deportation proceedings, and it’s likely that would take years to wind through an already-backlogged court.

However, it’s possible that these people could linger in immigration detention centers during that time. What’s more, Trump may act on promises to triple the number of federal immigration agents and pull federal funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” where local law enforcement officials who have make contact with suspected undocumented immigrants may choose not to turn them over to federal authorities.