Immigration: Stepping Back and Looking Forward


Immigration has been front and center in the presidential election. Much of the objection to Donald Trump has focused on his statements about immigration, like the famous wall that he claimed he will make Mexico pay for. Rhetoric makes for a good news buzz and can stir up strong emotions, but now the rhetoric is fading.

A little bit anyway.

Still, the fears of the immigrants and their families and friends in places like Aurora, Illinois,[1] and other places where large immigrant populations exist is palpable. Those fears are fueled by the Trump campaign rhetoric, which the media played up.

Now that the rhetoric of the election is fading (hopefully), the real business of planning the future is begun. Trump’s actual plans are beginning to be learned (or beginning to be determined, if you are of the cynical kind), and it appears to be deviating from the rhetoric. We can also take a step back consider the way forward.

While the most news outlets lead with a headline about the number of people Trump vowed to deport, his initial focus is wall (or fence) and illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. The number too (2-3 million) is down from the campaign pledge (11 million). By comparison, 2 million illegal immigrants were deported during the Obama tenure. Trump even called most undocumented persons “terrific people” and seemed to put off deciding how to deal with them until some unspecified time in the future.[2]

Looking backward can be instructive. On September 1, 2016, Lisa Des Jardins authored an article for PBS, during the heat of the election, identifying Trump’s 10-point plan for immigration.[3] The rhetoric was in full swing. The wall was first on the agenda with Trump being quoted as saying, “They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall.”

The next two agenda items focus on enforcing existing laws against illegal immigrants charged with and convicted of criminal acts. He would require detainment (rather than release) of illegal aliens charged with criminal activity and require deportation of convicted illegal immigrants. In other words, he wants to enforce the existing laws.

You can read all ten points of his plan in the Des Jardins article include:

  1. Defund sanctuary cities
  2. Cancel President Obama’s executive actions
  3. Extreme vetting. Block immigration from some nations
  4. Force other countries to take back those whom the U.S. wants to deport
  5. Get biometric visa tracking system fully in place
  6. Strengthen E-Verify, block jobs for the undocumented
  7. Limit legal immigration, lower it to “historic norms,” and set new caps.

17215408221_545e9d69fa_bWhether and to what extent he follows through with his campaign rhetoric, remains to be seen. Now that we are on the other side of the presidential election divide, the real rubber will have to meet the road, and we will see how far that goes.

Most of Trump’s plan will require Congress, law enforcement and other parties to carry out those plans.[4]

Congress holds the purse strings. “Turning off the jobs and benefit magnet” is … well …. It’s just rhetoric. The E-verify system is already in place and could “stop illegal immigration in seconds” (according to Market Watch[5]) … if only employers would use it.

How exactly is Donald Trump going to force countries to take people back, I wonder? Maybe just like how he is going to force Mexico to pay for a wall.

Constitutional challenges may derail some parts of his plan, like imposing an ideological test as a condition for getting a visa.[6]

Whether a greater focus on immigration controls is a sound, pragmatic policy is something reasonable people can disagree about, but much of what Trump proposes is simply focusing on laws and methods that are currently in place. Criminal laws and E-Verify are currently in place.

A biometric visa tracking system has been discussed for years.[7] It was recommended by an independent, bi-partisan commission in 2004, was actually required by the Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 signed into law by President Bill Clinton and has been approved and re-approved by seven (7) different laws passed by Congress since then! [8]

donald_trump_at_the_2016_republican_national_convention_croppedMuch of what Trump has proposed is not a departure from the stated policy and law of the United States over the past 20+ years.  It is simply a vow to enforce those laws and implement those policies, a focus that past presidents have not had.

From my perspective as a practicing attorney, we have an immigration system (and the agency that oversees it) that is antiquated and stunningly, bureaucratically inept. It needs to be overhauled. Part of Trump’s plan is to lower the legal immigration limits to “historic” norms (whatever that is), but I can’t imagine the pipeline being any more clogged up. It runs at a trickle, and it doesn’t even properly vet the trickle it lets in.

While Trump’s immigration platform resonated with some voters and alienated others, it remains to be seen whether he can implement it. He can’t do it alone. It remains to be seen if it will have any real effect and what that effect will be. Some local law enforcement officials, for instance, have determined that over aggressive enforcement of deportation laws can actually be counterproductive, because aggressive enforcement discourages immigrants from reporting illegal activity.

Sanctuary cites are a double-edged sword. Many people with who Trump obviously resonated, legal immigrant included, do not have a problem with enforcing the immigration laws against illegal immigrants. After all, they are illegal. Laws should be enforced (or changed). Having laws that we don’t enforce (or enforce selectively) are problematic.

I am reasonably sure that the vast majority of the country would not advocate scrapping the immigration laws altogether and opening the borders up wide. We need to focus, therefore, on the laws we have, change them if we can’t live them, and enforce them.

Personally, I take issue with the proposal to lower the limits of the trickle of immigrants we let in the country. If we rehab and tighten up the laws, if we gut and rebuild the Department of Naturalization and Residency to make it efficient and effective, there is no reason why this great, blessed country cannot be generous in the people we receive from other countries.

Our nation was founded by immigrants. The fact that they may not have been welcome (or overstayed the welcome they had) is another story. We have a beloved national monument commemorating the fact that we have traditionally opened our arms wide. We can afford to be generous again.

As a Christian, I think we have a responsibility to find a way to be generous. The Old and New Testaments are filled with exhortations to welcome the strangers among us. Yes, we must be vigilant to guard against potential evils in our midst. We need to protect our citizens as innocent victims against radicals who despise and hate us for no reason other than we don’t share their ideology.

I think we, as Christians, are given no choice but to

I challenge the Christians who helped to elect Trump to take a biblical stand for mercy and leniency. Mercy triumphs over judgment.[9] Our for-bearers immigrated to this country so that we now enjoy the freedoms we have here. While most of them immigrated legally, some did not. We enjoy our freedoms today either way. We should not be quick to shut out the many, lest we be shutting our Savior out of our country.

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.[10]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Aurora Area Immigrants Advised Not to Panic, Be Wary of Scams, Aurora Beacons News, November 16, 2016

[2] Donald Trump Appears to Soften Stance on Immigration, but Not on Abortion, NY times, Nov. 13, 2016

[3] What is Donald Trump’s 10-Point Immigration Plan?

[4] PolitiFact Sheet: Donald Trump’s immigration plan

[5] Opinion: How employers could stop illegal immigration in seconds

[6] In August, following the Orlando shooting, mentioned ideological testing. See US News, Trump to Propose Political Tests for Immigrants, August, 15, 2016 (“Trump is also expected to propose creating a new, ideological test for admission to the country that would assess a candidate’s stances on issues like religious freedom, gender equality and gay rights. Through questionnaires, searching social media, interviewing friends and family or other means, applicants would be vetted to see whether they support American values like tolerance and pluralism.”

[7] See Biometric Exit Tracking by Janice Kephart, Center for Immigration studies, September 2013.

[8] See Why is the biometric exit tracking system still not in place? By Roy Beck, The Hill, January 20, 2016

[9] James 2:12-13 “speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

[10] Matthew 25:40

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