Deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and building a wall with Mexico were paramount to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign so as the inauguration looms, the immigrant community is on edge as millions await their fates.
Over the weekend, activists gathered across the country from Chicago to Washington, D.C., to speak out against the restrictionist immigration policies Trump pushed on the campaign trail, but advocates who spoke with TPM this week said they remain in the dark about what Trump and his team plan to do in the upcoming months.
“The transition team has been remarkably closed lips about what their plans are,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “I think whether it is from the President-elect or the transition team, the details have been few and far between. My experience with the Obama team is they didn’t make any decisions with us in the room, but they were definitely entertaining a host of perspectives.”
Noorani said he’s not been privy to any of those meetings with the Trump team.
“I am sure there are parts of the Trump transition team who have been meeting with those who want to end immigration to the US as we know it,” he said.
At the top of the list of concerns is fear of what could become of the more than 700,000 young people who turned over personal information to the government in the last couple of years to get DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status, a program that has allowed people who came to the U.S. as children to get legal status, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Assuming that Trump lets the radical right wing of the Republican Party drive his immigration policy, we’re bracing for the worst,” Frank Sharry, the founder and executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration reform group, told TPM.
Already more than 800 congregations across the country have expressed interest in opening up their churches to immigrants looking for sanctuary and advocates are reissuing programs to help immigrants know their rights if they are pulled over or present for a deportation raid, advocates told TPM.
“There is a lot of uncertainty but also a lot of determination to protect each other,” said Julieta Garibay, the deputy advocacy director for United We Dream.
Here are the biggest unanswered questions about Trump’s nascent immigration policy:
When President Barack Obama acted unilaterally and took executive action to allow DREAMers to stay in the country without fear of deportation in the summer of 2012, Republicans were enraged. While many Republicans said they sympathized with young immigrants who had entered the U.S. illegally as children, many balked at the idea that Obama would go ahead to protect nearly a million immigrants without legislation from Congress.
Trump has said he wants to reverse DACA– the program that gave more than 740,000 immigrants protected status to live in the U.S.– but mayors across the country have urged Trump to keep it in place.
What Trump will do with the program remains a major question.
Reversing DACA could put more stress on Capitol Hill Republicans who already have their hands full trying to repeal and replace Obamacare, approve Trump’s slate of cabinet nominees and tackle other aspects of the President-elect’s legislative agenda . If DACA is reversed, it could put Republicans in the awkward position of having to pass stand-alone immigration legislation (which some in their district won’t like) or risk putting thousands of young immigrants in danger of being deported.
Some advocates worry that the information DREAMers turned over to get their DACA status could be used against them. In order to receive DACA, immigrants turned over their personal information to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And while it’s understood that information isn’t to be used to deport people, some worry that there aren’t adequate protections to stop that from happening.
“That would be a slow painful removal of work authorizations and university opportunities for 750,000 people,” Sharry said.
After the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, Republicans in states across the country and on the campaign trail, rushed to drastically change the way the U.S. admitted and accepted refugees into the country. Unlike other areas of immigration policy where Congress has played a major role, the President alone makes recommendations on how to admit refugees into the U.S.
Under Trump, many advocates fear, the U.S. refugee resettlement program could undergo a major shakeup and be severely restricted.
“It is expected to be a pretty tough road for the refugee program coming up,” Sharry said.
Right now, President Obama has the U.S. on track to accept approximately 110,000 refugees in FY 2017, some of them from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan where concerns over ISIS have perpetuated the refugee crisis and caused some Republicans to question the integrity of the U.S.’s years-long vetting process. Trump, however, has unilateral authority to change that target number and determine where refugees should be coming from.
On the campaign trail, Trump often advocated more rigorous vetting standards and called Syrian refugees “a great Trojan horse.” At one point, Trump advocated a “complete and total ban” on Muslim refugees then he advocated for what he termed “extreme vetting.”
What Trump will do with H-1B visas, those that are aimed at luring top-tier talent to the U.S., remains uncertain. While on the campaign trail, Trump wavered on the program, saying at one point that it was a good source of skilled workers before later going on to say on his official website that he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program.”
Advocates of the program say they are especially concerned that Stephen Miller, a former staffer to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), has the ear of the president-elect on the issue.
According to Reuters, Miller met with tech companies at Trump Tower earlier this year to discuss how the program could be revamped. Reuters reported that Miller had “proposed scrapping the existing lottery system used to award the visas.”
The program has been controversial as critics say it is used by outsourcing firms, but reshaping the H-1B program or restricting legal immigration is yet another way that the Trump administration may drastically reshape immigration policies.
A huge open question remains whether Trump follows through on his campaign promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. On the trail, Trump told his audiences that he would have a deportation force, but even Capitol Hill Republicans who were sympathetic to deporting immigrants with criminal backgrounds were skeptical that Trump would be able to round up millions of people.
Instead, advocates say their core concern is that Trump may just ramp up what they believe was an already aggressive deportation force that was put in place under the Obama administration.
“We know Obama built out the machine for deportation. Now, we know Trump could come in and turn up the lever and go even crazier on deportations,” Garibay said. “We know the systems are in place. A lot of local agencies have already gone rogue and have overused their powers of enforcement. They could actually increase their raids.”
Immigrants gather for a protest against Trump. Associated Press.
Some advocates are somewhat optimistic that Trump chose Gen. Mike Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security over a hardliner like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been a key author and advocate of some of the country’s toughest immigration laws. During his confirmation hearing last week, Kelly seemed to hint that his policies on deportation would be dictated by Trump, but that law-abiding undocumented immigrants would “probably not be at the top of the list.”
Who exactly has Trump’s ear on deportation policy, however, is still very much an open question.
On the campaign trail, it was Trump’s biggest applause line, but will Trump actually be able to build a wall with congressional approval?
Already, Trump’s team has been in discussions with the Department of the Interior and the US Army Corps of Engineers about how best to go about the project. It’s something that Vice President-elect Mike Pence briefed House Republicans on in a closed-door conference meeting weeks ago, and it seems like it could happen even though Republican lawmakers balked at the idea a few months ago.
The Associated Press
Trump has proposed the End Illegal Immigration Act, which would build the wall and then request Mexico to reimburse the U.S. for it. But Republicans in Congress are not really fond of infrastructure projects that cost billions and aren’t offset with spending cuts elsewhere.
Trump could always complete the fence that is already along the border and call that his big, beautiful wall, but what happens to his biggest campaign promise is still an open question.