5 Immigration Stories To Watch In 2018

Dec 29, 2017
Originally published on December 29, 2017 12:59 pm

During his first year in office, President Trump has taken a strikingly different approach to immigration policy than his predecessors.

"We haven't had an administration that saw immigration primarily as a burden and a threat to the country," said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. He thinks most Americans disagree with the White House about that. Still, Selee thinks the administration is "driving the conversation in new ways we hadn't seen under Republicans or Democrats before."

In its first year, the Trump administration delivered a broad crackdown on illegal immigration, and new limits on legal migration. Arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are up more than 40 percent since January, while fewer immigrants are trying to cross illegally at the southern border. Refugee resettlement is at its lowest level since Congress created the current framework in 1980.

"It's a 180 degree turn from the policies of the Obama administration," says Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration. "It's sending a message that the U.S. is taking its immigration laws seriously."

Some of the administration's most ambitious goals, however, have been blocked by the courts, or stymied by Congress.

Here's a look at five major immigration stories to watch in 2018.

1. DACA

The Trump administration is moving to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, leaving thousands of so-called DREAMers in limbo.

The Obama-era program protects about 700,000 young people who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children, shielding them from deportation and allowing them to work legally. Those protections have already begun to expire for some, with thousands of DREAMers potentially at risk of deportation starting in March.

Polls show widespread support for allowing DREAMers to stay in the country, but a permanent fix has been elusive as Congress and the White House try to hammer out the details.

2. Travel ban

The administration scored a long-sought victory when the Supreme Court allowed the latest version of the president's travel ban to take effect pending the outcome of several legal challenges.

Lower courts had blocked much of this travel ban, as well as earlier versions, partly because of concerns that they discriminate against Muslims. The latest travel ban covers many (though not all) travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, plus North Koreans and government officials from Venezuela.

One appeals court has already found that the president exceeded his legal authority; a second appeals court will rule soon. An appeal to the Supreme Court is all but certain to follow.

3. Border wall

This was arguably Trump's signature issue on the campaign trail, and a reliable applause line at his big public rallies this year.

But progress has been slow.

The administration has commissioned prototypes near the southern border outside San Diego. But Congress has yet to appropriate any money for construction. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to make Mexico pay for the wall, but officials there have said several times they will not do so.

Critics have questioned the need for the wall in the first place, especially since the number of immigrants trying to cross the border illegally has fallen to the lowest level in decades.

4. Sanctuary cities

President Trump signed an executive order intended to punish so-called "sanctuary cities" that limit their cooperation with immigration authorities. Several of those cities pushed back, arguing that the administration can't withhold federal money to coerce them into changing their immigration policies.

So far, courts have ruled against the Trump administration. A federal judge in California issued an injunction partially blocking the executive order in a case brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Judges in Chicago and Philadelphia also ruled against the administration.

This is a battle that's likely headed to appeals courts in the new year.

5. Employer crackdown

So far, the administration's enforcement efforts have focused mostly on immigrants themselves, not on employers who hire undocumented workers.

Trump administration officials say that will change next year. But past administrations found that workplace raids carried a high political price. The new year may reveal whether the White House has the stomach for a fight with the pro-business wing of the Republican Party.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump came into office promising some sweeping changes in U.S. immigration policy. And his administration began trying to deliver on those promises within days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REENA NINAN: There was chaos and confusion at airports today as President Trump's immigration crackdown took effect. Protest...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Let them in. Let them in. Let them in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are building a wall on the southern border, which is absolutely necessary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF SESSIONS: I'm here today to announce that the program known as DACA is being rescinded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVEED RECORDING)

THOMAS HOMAN: If you're violating the law, you should be uncomfortable. He should be looking over his shoulder.

GREENE: You heard President Trump there and then Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. Joining me now is our correspondent who covers immigration, NPR's Joel Rose. A busy year for your beat. I think it's safe to say, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Yeah, you could definitely say that.

GREENE: So, I mean, the president came in with an ambitious agenda and then it runs into stumbling blocks, is that the right way to capture it?

ROSE: Yeah, at least initially. I mean, right off the bat there was the travel ban executive order that the administration said was needed to protect national security and that caused chaos at airports when it was implemented back in January. And it was put on hold by the courts, at least initially. There was also this effort to crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, that was put on hold by the courts as well. And of course, there's the border wall that President Trump talked about so much on the campaign trail. That is still in the early prototype stages and Congress has yet to really allocate any money for it.

GREENE: OK. So as the year has gone on, what can we say the administration has accomplished?

ROSE: Well, it's done a lot to crackdown on illegal immigration - right? - and to limit legal migration into the country as well. Enforcement by ICE is way up. We've seen arrests jump about 40 percent since January compared to the same time last year, although deportations are still down slightly and way below the highest levels from the administrations of President Obama or George W. Bush. But we can say that fewer immigrants are trying to cross illegally at the southern border. Those numbers are down. Visa applications are being scrutinized much more heavily. Refugee resettlement - that's at its lowest level since Congress passed the current refugee resettlement structure in 1980. Maybe the biggest change though is the conversation around immigration. And I heard that both from supporters of the president and from critics of his policy. Here's Andrew Selee. He's the president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

ANDREW SELEE: We haven't had an administration that saw immigration primarily as a burden and a threat to the country.

GREENE: So that's a critic there. And you're saying that Trump supporters also see this as really a massive change in the conversation.

ROSE: Right. I mean, they see this as a great start, especially the tougher vetting of visa applicants, which they say is necessary for national security, and also the big jump that I mentioned in arrests by ICE. Here is someone who supports the president's policies. Jessica Vaughan at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for much lower levels of immigration.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: It's a 180-degree turn from the policies of the Obama administration. It's sending a message, and that's what's happening.

ROSE: The supporters would say that under Trump, immigration officials are finally enforcing the law. They say that before this, under President Obama, immigration authorities were looking the other way, basically. And there is some truth to that. Under the Obama administration, you are not considered a priority for deportation if you are in the country illegally but had no criminal record. Now ICE agents are casting a wider net, and they can arrest anybody they encounter who's in the country illegally. And that's creating a real climate of fear in a lot of immigrant communities.

GREENE: And Joel, isn't the Trump administration talking about tightening things even more for families who are trying to get to the U.S.?

ROSE: Right. Thousands of immigrant families are still arriving at the southern border every month. Many of them say they're fleeing from violence in Central America, but the Trump administration is worried that some of those families are not really in danger at home. And the administration wants to discourage them from making this dangerous trip to the border. One of the things the administration is considering is pretty unprecedented. It's separating children from their parents and detaining them while their asylum cases are pending.

GREENE: Separating families as a way basically to threaten other families who have not even made the trek yet saying if you come here, this might happen to you.

ROSE: That's part of it. Right. I mean, right now these families are often released into the U.S. to basically live here while they're waiting for their asylum cases to work their way through the courts. The Trump administration is talking about detaining them in separate facilities potentially, which is pretty controversial because critics say, you know, it would be cruel to separate young children from their parents.

GREENE: And I guess the immigration is going to stay in the news into the new year, right?

ROSE: Right. We may finally get some resolution around the legality of President Trump's travel ban. The Supreme Court may hear that case. And we may also get some resolution about deferred action for childhood arrivals better known as DACA. The Obama era program protects about 700,000 young people who are brought to the U.S. illegally as kids. The administration is rescinding it in March. And we may see a crackdown on employers. The administration has promised to crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers. We'll see if that really happens.

GREENE: NPR's Joel Rose. He covers immigration for us.

Joel, thanks.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.