August 13, 2017

Experts discuss Trump’s immigration policies and how localities are responding at ABA Annual Meeting

President Donald Trump ran a presidential campaign on the promise to fix America’s immigration system, which included building a border wall with Mexico, “extreme vetting” of refugees from the Middle East and deporting the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. 

Panelists discuss recent executive orders and other key border issues during the ABA Annual Meeting program "Deportation, Due Process and the New Frontier of U.S. Immigration Policy"

Since assuming office, President Trump has signed executive orders on securing the border; repealing immigration policies from the previous administration; imposing a travel ban that restricts immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, suspending refugee admission and indefinitely suspending the entry of Syrian refugees; and most recently endorsing a Senate bill that will cut legal immigration in half.

At a discussion on Friday during the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting in New York, a panel of legal experts examined the Trump administration’s immigration policies and their impact on local governments and immigrant communities across America.

Panelists, at the program: “Deportation, Due Process and the New Frontier of U.S. Immigration Policy,” sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division and Commission on Immigration, discussed recent immigration developments, examined why immigration continues to be a critical issue in the U.S. and tackled the challenges of how to fix America’s immigration system.

“This is not a traditional presidency and is particularly nontraditional with respect to immigration,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law. “This is a president that made immigration a core element of his campaign; you can actually argue that he started his campaign on the basis of the wall, the rapists and the terrorists.”

Speaking of the president’s campaign talk on refugees, T. Alexander Aleinikoff, director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility at The New School in New York City, said that the premise behind the travel ban policy was false.

“The president had said at some point during the campaign: ‘we don’t know who these people are, where they come from.’ That actually is not true,” said Aleinikoff. “The screening of refugees is much more detailed and careful than the screening of any other immigrant group in the United States: databases are checked, fingerprints are taken, interviews are done overseas in a number of different ways; in fact we know pretty well who these people are and who are coming to the United States.”

According to Aleinikoff, “the idea that this [travel ban] was done for security reasons, at least on the refugee side, was really a canard.”

But according to Chishti, while the media attention focused on the construction of a border wall and the travel ban, the Trump administration’s most drastic impact has been in its ramped-up enforcement of policies on immigrants already in the U.S.  

Citing MPI reports, Chishti said that “at the end of the Obama administration, only 13 percent of the unauthorized people in the country would have to wake up worried every morning on whether they would be picked up or not.”

The Obama administration had managed to communicate and implement a set of priorities that established a criteria for removal of undocumented people living in the country.

“Unless you were a wanted criminal, a national security threat or a recent arrival, you could actually get up in the morning go to work and think: ‘I’m going to come back and see my children,’” said Chishti. “That certainty has ended with the [Trump] executive order on interior enforcement.”

According to Christi, under Trump’s executive on interior enforcement, no one is immune from deportation.

“When the acting director of ICE says everyone should be looking over their shoulder, that is a different policy than someone saying only 13 percent of people should be looking over their shoulder,” said Chishti.

This change in policy and attitude “has generated deep anxiety across the country among immigrant communities,” said Chishti.

But the anti-immigration rhetoric and high levels of anxiety come with a very high price tag for America, according to Chishti.

“The number of people reporting crimes, especially sexual crimes, has gone down remarkably. The number of people reporting domestic violence has gone down remarkably. That is a huge price in terms of human interest issues,” said Chishti. “In terms of safety, arresting so many non-criminal [members] of society only increases the backlog of the immigration courts, which affects everything from due process to efficiency.”

Maribel Hernandez Rivera, director of Legal Initiatives for the New York Mayor’s Office, spoke about what New York City is doing on the immigration front.

“As a city we are engaging in a city-wide ‘know your rights’  effort to make sure that the immigrant community knows what the policies are, what they mean, how they affect them and where can they seek help,” said Rivera. “The next step for us is comprehensive immigration legal screening, because we want to make sure that if you qualify for an immigration benefit, you want to apply now.”

With these initiatives, Rivera says they want to guarantee that immigrants receive appropriate information from reliable sources.

“We want to make sure that you are not getting the information from a notario, from your neighbor, from your friend,” said Rivera. “We want to make sure that you have access to reputable counsel, whether it is a DOJ-accredited representative or an attorney.”

According to Rivera, the New York City government budgeted $30 million this year for immigration legal services, the largest investment in this area from any local government in the nation.

“Immigration is critical to any conversation we have today because immigration is our past, present and it is also our future; it is really the soul of this country,” said Jojo Annobil, executive director of the Immigrant Justice Corps. “It impacts jobs, the economy and it impacts families, culture and national identity.

However, according to Annobil, immigration will continue to be a critical issue if the laws dismiss the demographic changes of America.

“As a nation, even though our economy has grown and the demographics have changed, our laws have not changed have not kept pace with those changes.”

But, according to Chishti, immigration is a big systemic issue and can’t be resolved without addressing the legal status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.; improving lawful entry enforcement; and creating the proper legal channels for immigrants to meet demands of the economy.

“[Immigration reform] is a big systemic issue, you can’t handle it a small bite here, and a small bite [there],” said Chishti. “You obviously need a comprehensive approach to it.”