Posted by Ryan Suto on March 26, 2018 in Blog

While President Donald Trump has long expressed xenophobic sentiments during both his campaign for the presidency and his first year in office, 2018 has reflected a new urgency in his Administration’s inhumane attempts to remove from the country all who have legally significant connections abroad. These policies are aimed not at what America is now, but at what Trump and his allies want America to look like in the future.

The Trump presidency began with a relentless pursuit of successive Muslim Ban executive actions, justifying the prohibition of travel to the US any national from six Arab countries, Iran, and, later added for legal cover, North Korea and Venezuela. Each executive order contained a waiver program, theoretically allowing those banned to appeal Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s determination. However, the waiver program has been recently shown to be illusory, leaving the vast majority of visa applicants without permission to travel to the US.

During the past year of repeated Muslim Ban legal challenges in which the Administration argued that the policy is not based on religion, a draft Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report was compiled, calling for “long-term surveillance of Sunni Muslim immigrants.” The Administration has also launched an “Extreme Vetting Initiative,” which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to monitor the social media activity of any visa applicants or visa holders, regardless of connections to legitimate security concerns. The goal of the program seems to be the deportation of visa holders who do not meet vague standards regarding the “national interest.” Without legally intelligible standards, the policy gives the President and his allies broad discretion to remove any non-citizens for any reason, including religion and ethnicity, as long as it’s not in writing. As such, AAI has joined a FOIA request in pursuit of more details of the program.

In January, the White House released a desired “Framework on Immigration Reform & Border Security” which granted modest compromises on DACA in exchange for severe limitations on legal immigration, including eliminating diversity visas altogether and providing funding for Trump’s signature wall along the US-Mexico border. Senator Chuck Grassley introduced a bill mirroring the Administration’s desires, which continues to compete with other legislative proposals and criticism for attempting to enact a nativist agenda by limiting US immigrant ties to the rest of the world. 

In the absence of wholesale legislative changes, the Administration has used executive discretion to seek more brutal ways to deter immigrants, including those legally present in the US and those seeking asylum. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported on an account of a 7-year-old girl being purposely and unnecessarily separated from her mother when they attempted to seek asylum under international law. The government has made no claims that either the mother or the girl is guilty of any wrongdoing or present any security threat to the country. Instead, the treatment is part of a new border policy of “separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families” from coming to the US. Unfortunately, the young girl’s troubles may not end anytime soon; last month the Supreme Court struck down a limitation on holding undocumented immigrants, green card holders, and asylum seekers like the little girl and her mother, without a legal hearing. The Trump Administration can hold individuals as long as necessary to determine whether they “may be lawfully present in the country.”

The Administration praises legal processes when they support Trump’s goals of cruelty toward immigrants, but is willing to violate or avoid legal requirements when it feels constrained in anyway, displayed early in the Administration with the unlawful enforcement of the original Muslim Ban. Last month the Intercept detailed an ICE official internal policy to issue “ICE warrants” to mislead targets to believe that ICE has the authority to search their belongings. These false warrants are meant to trick those they suspect of violating immigration laws into giving consent to being searched, and thus avoid the need to present evidence to a judge to obtain a judicial warrant.

Since Trump took office, ICE has been targeting schools, hospitals, and courthouses in search of individuals who could be eligible for deportation. Faced with limited numbers of immigrants who commit felonies or violent crimes—the justification Trump gives for targeting them at all—ICE has now resorted to patrolling traffic courts, hoping to find undocumented immigrants who may be responding to speeding tickets. In perhaps the most blatant show that Trump’s security-based motivations for ramping up crackdowns on immigration, the Administration is closing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices on military bases, ending the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative which allows noncitizen service members expedited citizenship applications in exchange for their military service. By denying support for those willing to give their lives to protect our country, the President’s policies are exposed as serving no legitimate government interest; instead only furthering his base’s views of what Americans, and America, should look like.

President Trump’s artificial March 5 ‘deadline’ for DACA passed, which allows a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. The President’s desire to turn away millions of DREAMers who have lived nearly their entire lives in the US, against overwhelming public opinion, demonstrates the Administration’s preeminent preoccupation with an ability to control who continues to live in the United States. Luckily, the President’s efforts vis-à-vis DACA have been temporarily ineffective, as federal courts preemptively barred the program’s end. The Ninth Circuit held in University of California v. DHS that Trump’s plan to end DACA was likely arbitrary and capricious, violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). AAI signed on to an amicus brief in this case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing the lower court to require USCIS to accept renewal DACA applications. This week a separate federal court held in favor of the Administration, but will have no practical effect.

The Administration’s frustration with the pushback of both the judiciary and local jurisdictions on enforcing their immigration policies has been clear throughout the President’s term in strong rhetoric criticizing federal judges and politicians in “sanctuary cities.” This became official on March 6 when the Department of Justice sued California for laws which Trump claims prevent federal immigration officials from deporting immigrants. Many localities across the country have refused to allow state and local officials, jails, and facilities to be used to execute Trump’s broad assault on immigrant rights. If Trump and Sessions ultimately win their case against California, it would be possible that no jurisdiction in the country would have the authority to enact policies counter to Trump’s agenda.

Through all available authorities, the above policies show that the Trump Administration is sending a clear message to all non-citizens of the United States: if you are outside the US, please do not come here. If you are within the US, we would prefer that you leave. The disconnect with Trump’s policies and legitimate security interests show that they are not geared toward the present, but instead are concerned with America of the future: what America will look like for the next generation.

Trump’s message is also clear to US citizens who have no personal connections to non-citizens: We are protecting you from those who are different. The resonance of this message comes directly from the “cultural anxiety” over the diversifying of America. Trump’s efforts represent a desire to reverse the tide of immigration in America, and preserve the country for those already here. Indeed, many white Americans have long held the sentiment that they are losing America; Trump is simply the first president willing to change the country’s diverse future through the force of the State.