President Donald Trump’s speech Tuesday night at the State of the Union left one thing clear: there is still no consensus on how to overhaul the immigration system.
Trump focused on the White House’s recent new immigration proposal, first released last week, and said it “will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system.” The pillars of the proposal are: a pathway to earned citizenship for certain immigrants who came to the country as children; funding for a $25 billion trust to enforce restrictive border security measures; the elimination of the diversity visa lottery, which supplies 55,000 total visas for countries that do not generally send many people to the United States; and new limits on the family-based reunification system.
But the White House proposal, and the way Trump talked about it, simply do not match the reality on immigration today. Here’s how he was wrong on all four pillars:
Pathway to citizenship
What Trump said: “The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration.”
Facts on the ground: The Obama administration supported a comprehensive immigration reform bill that offered an earned pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants beyond the younger generation of immigrants known as “Dreamers.” That bill would have covered immigrants who aged out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program but similarly came to the country as children. That 2013 bill, which passed the Senate with a majority vote, never made it to the House floor under the leadership of then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). That bill polled well with Americans, including 74 percent of people according to a Fox News poll.
Trump announced an end to the DACA program in September — leaving the lives of 800,000 young people in limbo. The issue is still tied up in the courts.
What Trump said: “The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border… Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of “catch and release.”
Facts on the ground: “Catch and release” is an unofficial term that refers to the apprehension of border crossers and “releasing” them instead of detaining them until they are done with their immigration court proceedings. The program officially ended in 2006 and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began holding more people in detention while they wait for their court proceedings.
Trump has accused his predecessor of engaging in the practice in the past. But actually, under the Obama administration, DHS used “rapid removal procedures” to detain people at record-high levels, according to a 2016 American Immigration Lawyers Association fact sheet, which found that the average number of people detained for immigration violations was 37,350 people, or an increase of 74 percent since the end of the “catch and release” program. According to the same AILA document, the individuals DHS typically release are asylum seekers, families, and children, with the use of alternatives to detention like ankle bracelets to monitor immigrants on the rise.
Diversity visa lottery
What Trump said: “The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people. It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.”
Facts on the ground: As ThinkProgress previously reported, the diversity visa annually awards 55,000 visas and mostly benefits Africans and Eastern Europeans. The diversity lottery has long been a program that helps workers without college education to enter the country. For proponents, the program is a good thing because it helps recognize skills that may not be acknowledged as “being particularly proficient but they are.”
“For instance, people who do construction work learn on the job and they learn differently than U.S. workers learn, and there aren’t mechanisms by which those skills could be measured,” Deborah Weissman, professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told U.S. News.
What Trump said: “The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives. Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”
Facts on the ground: The Trump administration has brought back the outdated term “chain migration” to denigrate the process of family-based reunification which allows people who live in the United States to sponsor visas for their relatives. In theory, this kind of immigration process could allow someone to bring in an immediate family member, for example a brother who eventually becomes a U.S. citizen, and that brother can then bring in a child. In practice, the process could take decades.
As of January 2018, the U.S. government is still processing applications from the 1990s for family members, as seen in the chart obtained from the Department of State website below. The F1 category refers to unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; the F2A category refers to spouses and children of permanent residents (or green card holders); the F2B category refers to the unmarried children of permanent residents; the F3 category refers to married children of U.S. citizens; and the F4 category refers to siblings of U.S. citizens. As the chart states, the United States is still processing sponsorship applications from March 1995 — or about 23 years ago — for U.S. citizens to sponsor their Filipino siblings.