Is illegal immigration better or worse under Trump?
Donald Trump won his presidential campaign on the promise of reducing both legal and illegal immigration to the United States. However, recently some critics have called into question the effectiveness of his policies.
Most of Trump’s immigration reform policies have focused on his proposed border wall, designed to create a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico while tightening enforcement of illegal immigration laws. He has also proposed a ban on immigration from several Muslim-majority countries and has restricted pathways to legal citizenship, including exploring ways to limit or remove birthright citizenship from the legal books.
Determining whether Trump’s immigration changes have made a difference can be difficult, because information about undocumented immigrants is hard to confirm. Some analysis may indicate that Trump has not had the impact he desires. However, in many other ways, Trump has been effective in changing both legal and illegal immigration laws to reduce the total number of immigrants entering the country.
What was illegal immigration like before Trump?
America’s current immigration issue did not begin in the 2010s. In fact, it stretches back much further. Arguably, by the late 2000s the problem had declined significantly and had already been addressed extensively. For instance, President Bill Clinton’s immigration law from 1996 significantly increased the number of immigrants eligible for deportation and expanded funding for border patrol.
Arrests at the Border
Even before Trump, immigration without documentation had been on the decline. Total apprehensions at the border exceeded 1.5 million people in 2000. Since then, the numbers have plummeted. By 2015, they reached a new low of 337,000 apprehensions in a year. During Trump’s first year in office, it reached another low of 310,000 apprehensions. In 2018, however, the number rose to 404,000 apprehensions.
How do most illegal immigrants get here?
Apprehensions do not tell the full story of whether his attempts to mitigate illegal immigration are working or not. The majority of illegal immigrants arrive by plane and overstay their visas rather than cross the border. For this reason, politicians have criticized Trump’s immigration reform and his focus on constructing an expensive border wall rather than addressing immigrants who overstay their visas.
For the past seven years, far more illegal immigrants have entered the U.S. through a visa they overstay rather than through the border crossing. For instance, while 310,000 were apprehended at the border in 2017, more than 702,000 visitors overstayed their visas.
The Effects of Trump’s Immigration Reforms
Thus far, Trump’s immigration policies focusing on the border wall have not appeared to be successful. Just over 60 miles of border wall have been rebuilt since he took office, and virtually no new border wall has been constructed.
Instead, Trump has altered illegal immigration laws regarding who can claim asylum once they cross the border and how long individuals and families are held. Most recently, he has issued a policy enabling Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to catch and imprison families indefinitely, rather than releasing either children or adults within a certain amount of time.
Another target for Trump is asylum seekers — he has severely restricted the asylum process, attempting to force individuals to make claims in Mexico or stay in Mexico during the claims process. This policy has been challenged in court, but Trump has repeatedly attempted to modify it to circumvent court rulings.
These policies have earned him massive pushback from the public, with protests regarding Trump’s rules on illegal immigration taking place across the nation at border patrol facilities, detention centers and even around Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vehicles when ICE agents attempt to capture and transport undocumented immigrants.
In early 2019, Trump enacted some policies regarding the national visa center in order to target immigrants who overstay their visas. This included a memorandum where he claimed he would suspend all travel from countries where immigrants are likely to overstay their visas, including Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela. He also proposed an “admissions bond,” where those who receive visas must post funds that would be returned when they leave the country.
In addition, another policy from Trump limiting green cards to individuals who would not require government services went into effect in early August. Although the Trump administration said this requirement would not apply to refugees, asylum seekers, pregnant women and children, it is unclear what impact this will have on legal and illegal immigration rates.
Immigration in Trump’s Personal Life and Businesses
Trump’s illegal immigration policy has at times appeared to contradict aspects of his businesses and personal life. For instance, many rumors have swirled regarding whether or not Melania Trump was an illegal immigrant at any point. Records appear to indicate that she held a valid travel visa during the ’90s and never overstayed her visa in the United States. However, she may have been working in the country on a tourist visa, which is a crime that is rarely prosecuted or enforced.
However, regardless of Melania Trump’s citizenship status, there is other evidence that Trump has looked the other way regarding legal immigration in his own life. For instance, there is ample evidence that the president was intentionally hiring illegal immigrants throughout his career as a real estate mogul in order to pay lower wages than he would have to pay legal Americans.
Some former workers and attorneys say Trump’s companies are still employing illegal immigrants today. Although Eric Trump has promised to implement an E-Verify system, Trump has complained in interviews that the system designed to prevent hiring undocumented workers limits his pool of available applicants.
Additionally, Trump has received criticism for failing to prosecute companies that have illegal immigrants working on staff. Just a handful of employers have been prosecuted under Trump for hiring undocumented workers, with the bulk of the attention instead being paid to immigrants that claim asylum at the border.
Despite the fact that Trump claims the economic impact of immigration is mostly negative, his hardline policies targeting immigrants rather than employers may already be negatively impacting the economy at large, according to both conservative and progressive think tanks. For instance, the conservative American Action Forum predicts that the GDP will be $2.6 trillion lower over the next decade than it would be if Trump was not removing immigrants from the economy.