The term immigration reform refers to changes in law and policy or attempts to change law and policy regarding immigration matters.
What Is the Purpose of an Immigration Reform?
The purpose of immigration reform can depend on who you ask and their perspective toward immigrants and the immigration system.
Generally, immigration reform has referred to efforts by advocates for the rights of the immigrant community to provide more immigrants with legal status and a pathway to citizenship. Immigration reform can also refer to attempts to “fix” the “broken” immigration system, including reducing the long backlogs that immigrants face to having their hearings in immigration court and the extensive waitlist to receive an immigrant visa to go through the process of obtaining a green card through a family member.
Immigration reform has also been a term used by individuals who oppose immigration and seek to make immigration laws and policies more restrictive.
Prior Immigration Reform Efforts
Several efforts for immigration reform that have sought to provide benefits for immigrants’ legalization also have been combined with measures that create limits to immigration.
For example, one of the most major legislative pieces of immigration reform that occurred in United States history was the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). IRCA was signed into law by a Republic President, President Ronald Reagan. The law provided legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the United States prior to January 1, 1982, and met certain requirements. But while IRCA provided mass legalization of immigrants, IRCA also set in place laws that made it illegal to knowingly hire undocumented immigrant workers and instituted financial and criminal penalties for companies that employ such workers unlawfully.
More recently, in 2013, the United States Senate considered comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Like in 1986, the measure combined efforts to restrict immigration, this time through strengthened border enforcement, with plans to increase opportunities for immigrants to gain legal status. However, immigration reform ultimately was not passed at this time. No efforts in Congress since 1986 have led to widespread, comprehensive immigration reform.
Despite the numerous immigration laws and policy developments in the United States, overall in the past thirty years, there have been few major changes to the immigration laws. Immigration reform is needed to modernize the country’s immigration laws.
What has President Trump done so far about immigration reform?
President Trump’s Administration has made many drastic efforts to restrict legal immigration, dramatically expand the government’s immigration enforcement ability to detain and deport immigrants, and bar asylum-seekers and other groups of vulnerable immigrants from humanitarian protection through executive policies. While these policies have had horrific effects on the rights of immigrants, none of them so far have led to major comprehensive legislative change to the immigration laws in Congress.
Below is an overview of just some of the many significant changes the United States government has taken to implement restrictive immigration policies during President Trump’s Administration, upending the immigration system. Many of these policies have been blocked by the federal courts or continue to be challenged in the courts through active litigation.
- Changes to Immigration Enforcement Priorities: On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed executive order ‘Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”, dramatically broadening U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s priorities for enforcement and deportation to include all removable immigrants. This policy ended the enforcement priorities under President Obama which had limited ICE’s priorities for deportation to just removable immigrants who had certain types of criminal convictions. Under the Trump Administration’s enforcement priorities, any immigrants who are legally removable and have been merely charged with a crime, committed acts that could be charged, or are considered dangerous by an immigration officer, among other factors, are priorities for deportation.
- Plans to Construct a Border Wall: Also on January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order calling for the immediate construction of a border wall. The President’s demands to build a border wall have been a basis for funding disputes, including a protracted government shutdown.
- Travel Ban/Muslim Ban: On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed the first of three executive orders seeking to ban immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
- Ending DAPA: On June 25, 2017, the Administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), a program of the Obama Administration which would have given temporary protection from deportation and the right to work to an estimated 3.5 million undocumented immigrants.
- Attempting to end DACA: On September 7, 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary protection from deportation and the right to work to individuals who were brought to the United States as children and meet certain educational and criminal history requirements. Currently, the repeal of DACA has been blocked by several courts and litigation challenging the termination of DACA remains pending.
- Call to End the Diversity Visa Lottery Program: Beginning in November 2017, President Trump began calling for an end to the diversity visa lottery program, also known as the green card lottery, which aims to diversify the population of the United States by providing opportunities for immigrants from countries with low numbers of immigrants to apply for green cards.
- Efforts to Add a Citizenship Question on the Census: In December 2017, the Commerce Department formally requested that the Census Bureau add a question about United States citizenship on the 2020 census. In June 2019, the United States Supreme Court refused to allow the citizenship question to be added based on the government’s reasons provided.
- Attempting to End TPS: From October 2017 – May 2018, the Administration made efforts to cut off Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Nepal, and Honduras. TPS is a humanitarian form of protection to give a temporary reprieve from deportation for immigrants who had been living in the United States while a humanitarian crisis occurred in their home country.
- Family Separations and the Zero Tolerance Policy: Beginning in the Spring of 2018, the Administration expanded a prior pilot program to apply a “zero-tolerance policy” at the border, urging federal prosecutors to criminally charge and prosecute all immigrants who crossed the border unlawfully as violating federal criminal law. This zero-tolerance policy was the basis for the widespread family separations at the border in which immigration officials separated parents from their children as a result of placing parents in criminal proceedings and detaining children separately.
- Asylum Ban I: On November 9, 2018, the Administration introduced a new asylum rule that attempted to bar all migrants who crossed through the border with Mexico by land without inspection from the asylum. This policy was struck down by a federal court.
- Remain in Mexico Policy: On January 25, 2019, the Administration announced the Migration Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the Remain in Mexico policy, a policy in which the government returns asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait there for their asylum hearings. This policy has caused many asylum-seekers to face life-threatening danger.
- Metering Policy: Beginning in May 2019, the Administration began a “metering” practice of telling asylum-seekers arriving at the border that they must wait in Mexico until more space becomes available because of “limited processing capacity.”
- Asylum Ban II: On July 15, 2019, the Administration issued another rule seeking to ban asylum for anyone who entered or attempted to enter across the southern border, if they did not seek protection from a third country while en route to the United States. Active litigation continues challenging this policy.
- Public Charge Restrictions: On August 12, 2019, the Administration announced a rule slated to take effect October 15, 2019, restricting poorer immigrants from being able to apply for green cards and citizenship if they have received public benefits for a certain period, causing them to be viewed as “public charges” in the eyes of the Administration.
What Does President Trump Plan to do About the Immigration Reform in The Near Future?
While we cannot predict what kind of further attacks on immigrants the Administration will announce next, it is clear that the Administration is continuing to make efforts to limit the rights of immigrants in the United States and reduce avenues for legal migration.
The situation for immigrants in the United States today under the Trump Administration is nothing short of difficult and painful. Immigration reform that offers legal status to broad groups of immigrants and provides a pathway to citizenship is not something we can expect at the moment. Rather, this is the time when immigrants must defend and empower themselves with information and how they can protect themselves.
Camino Financial proudly stands in solidarity with the Latino immigrant community and small business owners during this time. It is our mission to make sure that there is “No Business Left Behind” , meaning we provide financing options and resources to any small business owners, regardless of their immigration status. We are here to make sure you are able to stay informed with the latest news in immigration and to show you how to fight for your rights.
Information is power. Immigrants can stand up for themselves by learning about their rights and preparing themselves, their families, and their businesses for any potential immigration problems. In the case of an immigration problem in the future, check out our recent post “What happens to my business if I get deported?”