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Trump’s immigration policies potentially hard to reverse

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Trump’s immigration policies potentially hard to reverse

The Trump administration made hundreds of executive actions on immigration with potentially lasting effects on U.S. policy, a new report finds.

In his four-year term, former U.S. President Donald Trump made 472 executive actions on immigration, setting a new precedent, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released last week.

Aside from Trump’s sweeping promises to reform U.S. immigration policy — many of them unmet, from fortifying a U.S.-Mexico border wall and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants — one catalyst for immigration reform was the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic Response

At the onset of the pandemic, health-related travel restrictions took priority and promptly impacted policy surrounding the Visa Waiver Program, for one, which exempts foreign nationals from certain countries from requiring a visa to enter the United States. After a newly instated policy banned travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland, two countries that participate in the program, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced that those attempted to travel to the United States in violation of the ban would have their “visa-free travel authorization canceled.”

But Trump’s pandemic-era restrictions reached beyond mitigation of non-essential travel.

“The pandemic did not sway the Trump administration’s steady focus on illegal immigration at the southern border and asylum,” the MPI reports.

It details one executive action carried out by the administration “barring the entry of asylum seekers and other unauthorized arrivals at the United States’ northern and southern land borders.” According to the report, CBP carried out more than 390,000 expulsions under the order between the start of the pandemic through December 2020, and Border Patrol encounters with migrants at the southern border occurred more frequently that year than they had in any December prior since 1999.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Trump’s presidency set new challenges for immigrants seeking legal entry and asylum into the United States — documented immigration became inaccessible to many.

Track back to the pre-pandemic status quo of 2017, when the administration issued a series of refugee bans in the interest of “national security”. Following a 120-day ban on all refugee entry into the United States, the administration issued an extended ban on refugees from countries of “‘high risk’ to national security”, the report said, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Lasting Impacts

The report said: “While many of the administration’s changes appear small and technical, in combination they had much larger impacts on the U.S. immigration system.”

It cites a 2018 revision to its consular manual that enabled officers to limit the validity of nonimmigrant visas, resulting in advanced expiries of visas for nonimmigrants like students and tourists, as one such example. Visitors and foreign nationals who fell into such categories would be subject to increased vetting and background checks under the Trump administration.

The authors of the report write that “while it may be possible for subsequent administrations to rescind many of these changes, others cannot simply be unwound.”

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration attempted to tackle immigration reform in the Build Back Better Act, the budget reconciliation bill that passed in November 2021. But many immigrants feel that the changes are inadequate, falling short on Biden’s promises to provide a clear pathway to citizenship — promises that will likely resurface in his second year.

If you have any questions on entry into the United States, or how Trump’s previous policies may have affected you, do not be afraid to reach out to Ibrahim Law Office of Chicago, where someone from our office can assist you.

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