“President Donald Trump has systematically engineered a major crackdown on immigration during his first 100 days in office — even as courts reject his executive orders and Congress nears a spending deal that will deny him funding for a wall along the southern border.
The number of arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted in March to the lowest level in 17 years — a strong suggestion that Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric is scaring away foreigners who might otherwise try to enter the United States illegally. In addition, part of a lesser-known executive order that Trump signed in January gave federal immigration agents broad leeway to arrest virtually any undocumented immigrant they encounter.
Granted, Trump’s splashiest immigration promises — the border wall and two successive bans on immigrants from various majority-Muslim nations — have been stymied by Congress and the courts. And Tuesday, Trump received another setback when a district court judge blocked a directive denying federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to help enforce federal immigration laws.
But the president has nonetheless reshaped the nation’s immigration policy substantially.
“Even without putting down one single brick,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that favors lower immigration levels, “Trump has dramatically altered the flow across the southern border.”
Businesses that use foreign workers, worried they’ll get singled out by federal agents during a visa review, are starting to explore the possibility of recruiting domestic labor. Trump’s enforcement policies are affecting higher education, too, with early signs suggesting foreign students are less likely to apply to U.S. colleges and universities. Nearly 40 percent of colleges and universities surveyed by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reported a decline in international applications, and almost 80 percent said they fielded particular concerns from students in the Middle East. International students are, among other things, an important source of revenue for colleges, since typically they pay sticker price on tuition and fees.
To longtime advocates for undocumented immigrants, the change is less about numbers than about who’s being targeted.
The interior enforcement executive order that Trump signed during his first week in office dumped the Obama administration’s practice of prioritizing the arrests of serious criminals — a policy that allowed low-level immigration offenders to fly below the radar.
“The agents that I’ve talked to over the past few months have said that they feel that they can go out and enforce the law again, whereas they had many limitations on them over the past eight years,” said John Torres, chief operating officer at the consulting firm Guidepost Solutions and acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the George W. Bush administration. “If they encounter someone who is out of status, even though they are not targeting that person, they can now take them into custody.”
Early numbers reflect that shift. ICE arrested 21,362 immigrants from January through mid-March, a 32 percent increase over the same period last year. That tally included 5,441 non-criminals, double the number arrested a year earlier.
Trump, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have all argued that the administration will target serious criminals first. But a steady stream of reports have shown otherwise.
An Ohio woman with four U.S. citizen children was recently deported to Mexico, despite the fact that she had been in the U.S. for 15 years and had no criminal record. Earlier this month, an Indiana restaurant owner with three U.S. citizen children, a two-decade history in the country, and no criminal record also was removed to Mexico.
“What’s really interesting here is how much of the difference seems to be rhetorical,” said Cecilia Muñoz, who was domestic policy director to formerPresident Barack Obama. “By talking tough, they have unleashed officers who now feel like they can do whatever they want.”
The threat of deportation even hangs over Dreamers in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That initiative, enacted by Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age to apply for deportation relief and work permits.
More than 770,000 people are covered under DACA, which Trump threatened to kill during the campaign. Since taking office, he’s backed off on that pledge — yet infuriated immigration advocates say the administration’s enforcement tactics show Dreamers are in no way safe from deportation.
Earlier this month, Juan Manuel Montes, a DACA recipient who had lived in California, filed a lawsuit that claimed he was deported to Mexico despite his DACA status, the first known removal of its kind under the new administration. The facts of the case remain in dispute — DHS maintains that it has no record of the deportation in question and insists Montes left the U.S. without permission, which would invalidate his DACA protections.
Democrats say Trump’s reluctance to rescind the Obama-era initiative has been a rare silver lining to the new administration’s immigration policy. Still, they are by no means assured, pointing to the ramped-up enforcement by immigration agents across the nation.
“It fails to dispel the fear,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noting the Montes deportation. “There’s just a variety of ways where the fear can be paralyzing and so insidious. So to have some clear, unambiguous system is so important, and it has been so lacking.”
Read the full report over on Politico. This analysis, along with others I have posted, suggests that trump is “winning” the immigration war notwithstanding a string of “defeats” in the lower Federal Courts on “signature” immigration issues like the “travel ban” and “sanctions on sanctuary cities.”