Sarah Pierce, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, Ignacia Rodrigues, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center.

President Donald Trump has made good on his promises to carry out an anti-immigrant agenda over the last four years and it’s likely his race for a second term will continue to target working immigrants and their children with policy changes, including new bans on worker’s visas, threats of deportation and his signature immigrant bashing that has encouraged racism.  

A report released on July 31 by the Migration Policy Institute outlines how the Trump administration has made brazen sweeping changes as well as less-noted technical adjustments  that have dramatically reshaped the US immigration system since he entered the oval office. 

The report has catalogued more than 400 executive actions on immigration, spanning everything from border and interior enforcement, to refugee resettlement and the asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration courts, and vetting and visa processes. During this pandemic, Trump has persisted with taking 63 strong actions impacting immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the changes, said Sarah Pierce — a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, who co-authored the report with MPI associate policy analyst Jessica Bolter — found the policy changes “reflect the administration’s really strong knowledge of immigration law and regulations, and their willingness to enforce things that have been on the books for years, but have never been implemented.”   

Pierce notes the pandemic has accelerated the changes this administration has made, the three greatest changes being a Center for Disease Control Order, the April 22 Presidential proclamation restricting permanent immigration, and a June 22 proclamation restricting temporary workers.

“There was a 1944 law that allows the surgeon general to restrict the entry of individuals deemed a public health threat, so the administration used that law to issue an order coming from the CDC Director that restricts the entry of individuals that are not authorized to enter the country. The effect of that has been essentially ending asylum on the southern border,” said Pierce.

“As a result of this order the vast majority of asylum seekers are being expelled from the southern border,” she said.

The Trump administration’s effort to impose and enforce the “Public Charge” rule that was first introduced in the Immigration Act of 1882, could deny visas or permission to enter the United States if they have disabilities or lack economic resources. 

“‘Public Charge’ restricts individuals from coming into the United States if the government determines that the individual is likely to be reliant on public benefits when they get to the country,” Pierce explained.  

“The Trump administration has really expanded the definition of who would fall under this restriction. Its implementation has been rocky due to legal setbacks, but once implemented and really enforced, it could significantly change the flows into the United States — disfavoring women, the elderly, and nationals in Central America and Mexico,” said Pierce. 

Trump’s policies have caused public health officials to be concerned that both legal and non-legal immigrants have been reluctant to seek medical care or social services especially during this current pandemic. Families who are rightfully entitled to receive support to put food on their table or medical care may be staying away out of fear of being detained or apprehended. 

The MPI report indicates  that during Trump’s first 100 days in office, immigration arrests rose by more than 37 percent. While Trump claimed to deport only those with criminal records, his administration has made all unauthorized immigrants with or without infractions, a priority for deportation. Arrest rates have doubled for working immigrants without criminal records. 

The report includes the impact on families, including six million US born children who fear they will be separated from their parents or they will be forced to move to a country they have no connection to. Teachers have reported increased bullying of Latino children taunted with Trump rhetoric to go back to where they came from.    

The report notes: The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 gave the administration new openings to push forward many of its remaining immigration policy aims. This period has seen bans on travel and a pause on visa issuance for certain groups of foreign nationals, and a further closing off of the US-Mexico border that has effectively ended asylum there.

President Trump’s recent changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, following a Supreme Court decision which ruled against the Administration, has also caused concern and confusion.  

“The July 28 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo directs the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reject any initial DACA requests, meaning from people who have never had DACA before. Individuals who apply for DACA for the first time in light of the Supreme Court decision should expect to receive notice that their initial request has been rejected, and will have their application and associated fees returned by mail,” said Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec, an immigration policy advocate with the National Immigration Law Center. 

“USCIS will continue accepting and processing DACA renewal requests. Those who are eligible for renewal should still consider submitting their requests, especially if they have less than 150 days before their current DACA expires. We recommend that individuals consider renewing their DACA, to consult an attorney or a DOJ-accredited representative who can provide an individualized assessment, including whether they are eligible for a more or another permanent form of immigration relief.”

“Based on the DHS memo, now individuals whose DACA renewal requests are approved will see only one year of DACA and employment authorization will be valid for only one year instead of two,” Kmec said. “This does not apply to individuals who have already been approved for two years; however, upon applying again they will still only receive one year if approved.” 

Attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, former co-chair of the South Asian Bar Association’s committee on immigration, said the President has used the COVID-19 pandemic to thwart  migrants. “The proclamations post COVID-19 are essentially a sledgehammer to business immigration,” she said.

Without regard for the need for a range of migrant and guest workers, from those who work in the fields to those who work in highly skilled tech industries, Trump signed a proclamation in June temporarily banning new foreign workers from entering the US. Visa categories included in the ban are H-1B workers and their spouses; H-2B visas for non-agricultural workers; J visas for student exchange programs; and L visas for intra-company transfers. 

On Aug. 3, Trump issued yet another Presidential proclamation barring the federal government from hiring H-1B workers. Fewer than 2,000 H-1B workers are currently employed by the Federal government. But Trump’s latest bans could backfire and have the opposite effect — sending US industry, jobs, innovation, investment away and it could spur economic growth not in the United States, but abroad. 

“They are the workers that are allowing us to have Zoom calls. They’re the ones that we need to allow us to get back on our feet and be able to work remotely and provide the technologies that we all need,” said Peddibhotla, who pointed out that guest workers help to grow the US economy. 

“The overall ripple effect is there’s actually job creation and our economy does better with immigrants,” she maintained.

Looking toward November, there is concern that even if Trump isn’t re-elected, his presidency will have a long-lasting effect on immigrants.

There will be an expectation to fix what he’s done, but it won’t be an easy task for a new administration nor will it be immediate to unravel the interlocking measures he’s taken with regulatory, policy and programmatic changes to US immigration policy.

The entire MPI report can be downloaded here: