The impeachment inquiry against President Trump has quickly become the greatest challenge to his presidency, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed his relentless push to radically restructure our nation’s immigration system.
Trump has flipped U.S. immigration policy on its head and the fate of millions of people is at stake. In some cases, the consequences of Trump’s new and proposed policies are a matter of life or death.
Here’s a roundup of what’s happening on the immigration front.
The Trump administration wants to slash the number of refugees allowed to resettle here to 18,000 next year. That’s about 20% of the target set by President Obama in 2016, and the lowest government cap since 1980.
Refugees are also being affected by a policy change that dramatically expands the government’s practice of returning asylum seekers who arrive at our border to Mexico to await court hearing dates. It used to be if you made a credible claim for asylum, you could be released to a sponsor – usually a family member in the U.S. – until your case wound its way through the system, a process that often takes years.
Already about 45,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico under the policy. Unless an appeals court rules otherwise, tens of thousands more asylum applicants could be sent to Mexico to live in conditions that are substandard, if not outright dangerous.
Reports have shown “that migrants sent back to Mexico under the policy have been robbed, kidnapped for ransom, raped, tortured and killed,” according to Vox.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have penned so called “safe third country” agreements with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that require migrants to seek asylum first there if they pass through one those countries on their way to the U.S.
The plan is almost as heartless as it is absurd. Many of the 800,000 migrants who have been arrested at our border in the past year came from those three violence-ridden nations in the first place. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are all on the top ten list of countries with the world’s highest murder rates.
Legal immigration is also under assault. In about two weeks, a sweeping new rule will take effect that is aimed at cutting the number of low-income, legal immigrants who get to become U.S. citizens.
The rule basically says that if you’re applying to extend a visa or your want to apply for a new one that you cannot have used public benefits you were entitled to, such as food stamps, up to certain monetary limit. The rule change has already spread fear and confusion among legal immigrants, some of whom have dropped public benefits altogether for fear it could keep them from gaining citizenship.
Not all is gloom and doom for immigrants coming to the United States.
On Sept. 27, a federal judge rejected a plan by the Trump administration to keep migrant families in custody indefinitely while their court cases get resolved. If enacted, the government’s plan would have overturned a decades-old federal court settlement that caps at 20 days the period child migrants can be held in detention.
The same day, a different federal judge issued a permanent injunction that bars Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from depending on what critics called a “seriously flawed” database to identify, detain and quickly deport people the agency asserted were here undocumented, the Associated Press reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the use of the error-wracked data collection system was the core of ICE’s Secure Communities program, responsible for the arrests of more than 2 million people since it began in 2008.
While many of Trump’s policy changes impact millions, the little known but vitally important “medical deferred action” program managed to grab some headlines last month. The program allowed immigrants with serious medical conditions to stay in the U.S. while undergoing treatment, in some cases for life-threatening diseases.
In August, USCIS officials sent out what were basically form letters to about 1,000 immigrants granted the special status informing them without explanation that the program had been canceled and those who benefited from it could face deportation proceedings in 33 days.
Immigrants who had qualified for the status were stunned. Democrats were outraged there had been no formal announcement or explanation of the program’s cancellation. Immigration authorities, meanwhile, blamed each other for the program’s cessation. USCIS officials said ICE was taking over the program. ICE said it wasn’t.
The decision to cancel the program was eventually reversed, but not until after a wave of bad press and a televised Congressional hearing, which featured several seriously ill immigrants who depended on the program to stay alive.
The policy changes I address here don’t begin to cover all that’s happened with immigration since the start of the Trump administration or the consequences of those changes.
But consider these two facts. Since Trump took office, the number of deportation cases waiting to be heard in immigration court has more than doubled to just over 1 million.
At the same time, a study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights finds that wait times for citizenship applications has also doubled.
According to Ming Hsu Chen, a law professor at the University of Colorado, writing for Latino USA, the report found “as of September 17, there is a national backlog of more than 700,000 applications.”
It’s been said, but it’s worth repeating: Elections have consequences. And the consequences of the Trump presidency have been punishing for immigrants and contrary to what our nation must stand for.
If we plan to keep calling ourselves “a nation of immigrants,” we need to do all we can, by means of impeachment or at the ballot box, to end Trump’s relentless and bigoted assault on our immigrant brothers and sisters.
This column originally ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Arizona Mirror. Read the original column here.