Trump’s hateful border wall fantasy would do nothing to address the real immigration crisis
For well over a month, President Donald Trump has demanded Congress pass appropriations legislation to fund the government that includes $5.7 billion for his administration to build additional miles of wall and fencing on the southern border. The president claims that the result of building a border wall will be that “CRIME WILL FALL,” and is threatening to declare a national state of emergency in order to get the funds he wants to begin construction.
When Democrats refused to give in to the president’s demands in December 2018, he caused the longest government shutdown in history before ultimately signing legislation on January 25 to reopen the government for three weeks, until February 15. This is intended to give a bipartisan committee of members of Congress time to agree to fiscal year 2019 appropriations legislation that includes new border security funds. Today the president is scheduled to give his annual State of the Union speech, and it’s been widely reported he will again threaten to declare a state of emergency to get what he wants—or even make a definitive statement about an emergency declaration.
The president’s focus on the wall and border security is misguided, and does little to address today’s realities on the border. There the U.S. immigration system certainly faces challenges, but the president isn’t proposing valid solutions. Instead, he’s trying to scare the public by muddling the issue with alarmist language and false statistics.
The reality at the border is this: The overall size of the unauthorized immigrant population has declined to its lowest level in a decade. And while a wall is mainly designed to keep out unauthorized border crossers, the number of migrants being apprehended for attempting to enter the United States without authorization is lower than it has been in decades. The numbers that are growing, however, are the share of total apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that consist of families and unaccompanied minors, as well as the number of families who present themselves voluntarily before CBP. Many then go on to request asylum once in CBP custody.
The Trump administration’s response to what should mainly be a resource allocation and management challenge to process asylum cases in a timely fashion, and to have detention policies that are rational and humane, has been to do the opposite of what’s needed—inflict maximum pain on immigrants in order to deter them from seeking asylum. The Trump administration’s policies have tried to achieve this by—among many other things—criminalizing all unauthorized entries; separating immigrant families; jailing immigrants in the substandard conditions of prisons run by for-profit companies where children and adult detainees have died or been abused; working to water down the rules that restrict the length of time that families and children can be detained; narrowing the definition of asylum through the immigration courts and setting a historically low annual number of slots for refugee resettlement; and limiting the number of asylum seekers that CBP can process per day—forcing many to remain in Mexico while they await court hearings—and likely violating international law in the process.
Trump’s border proposals have so far only succeeded in causing chaos and suffering, and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.
A number of experts, including those at the Migration Policy Institute, have suggested reforms to address the contemporary challenges at the border that can be achieved administratively by the Trump administration or with new appropriations from Congress. Their recommendations would be far preferable to the status quo or to $5.7 billion in public money going towards 30-foot steel slats being erected in Texas.
And while the debate over President Trump’s border wall funding rages on, another immigration policy crisis remains unresolved within the borders of the country: the fate of DACA and TPS recipients.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was created in 2012 by President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security to allow immigrants who arrived in the United States as children without a lawful immigration status to remain in the country temporarily without fear of deportation. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was created by statute in 1990 as a humanitarian program to allow the executive branch to suspend deportations for foreign-born persons in the United States if their countries of origin were destabilized by a disaster or armed conflict. DACA and TPS combined cover approximately one million immigrants—many of whom have lived in the United States for decades.
In addition to a temporary reprieve from deportation, both programs allow recipients to apply for employment authorization documents (EADs) that allow them to work legally. The availability and issuance of EADs is vastly important to ensuring fairness in the workplace because they give DACA and TPS recipients workplace rights by removing the threat of deportation. The impact of having an EAD can be significant and life-changing. For example, according to one survey, DACA recipients saw their wages rise on average by 78 percent after receiving an EAD.
President Trump entered office as a critic of both DACA and TPS and has used his executive authority to attempt to strip recipients of their protections. At the moment, multiple federal court decisions have temporarily prevented president Trump from ending DACA for all current recipients and for many TPS recipients. It appears that DACA will remain in place through at least the rest of 2019, but things are much less certain for many thousands of TPS recipients, for whom DHS has already announced an end date for their temporary immigration status.
Many Democratic lawmakers have rightly prioritized achieving policy reforms that would provide DACA and TPS recipients with a path to permanent residence and citizenship. Knowing this, a few weeks ago President Trump and Senate Republicans attempted to dupe Democratic legislators into agreeing to an appropriations deal to end the shutdown that would have enacted a right-wing wish list of measures to beef up immigration enforcement and restrict access to asylum-seekers, while offering so-called protections for DACA and TPS recipients that were arguably worse than the status quo and would have barred many from qualifying. The bill offered by Senate Republicans at Trump’s behest was a bad faith ploy to make major reforms to the U.S. immigration system while holding hostage 800,000 federal employees who were struggling to survive without a paycheck. The Republican bill was rejected in the Senate on January 24, getting even fewer votes than the Democratic proposal that included no funding for border security.
Recent reporting has revealed that DACA and TPS are unlikely be part of a new legislative package to increase border security funding and keep the government open beyond February 15. That fact, combined with the lack of the support in Congress for the previous Trump-backed legislation, suggests there’s little hope of any law being enacted that will protect DACA or TPS recipients while Trump is in the White House. That’s a crisis and a tragedy that could leave one million taxpaying workers who have lived in the United States for decades fearing deportation and employers willing to use that vulnerability against them in order to underpay and exploit them.
Considering Trump’s recently revealed business practices, perhaps that’s by design. His company has benefitted from the labor of unauthorized immigrant employees for nearly two decades—but once this fact was revealed by the New York Times, they began the process of firing them all. Senator Menendez (D-N.J.) has called for an investigation after meeting with some of Trump’s employees, noting that the workers “describe[d] a hostile environment where they were verbally abused and threatened,” and requested that they be protected from deportation during the investigation. Hopefully Trump’s employees—and the rest of the 8 million unauthorized immigrant workers in the U.S. labor force, including DACA and TPS recipients—will someday get what they deserve for their contributions to the U.S. economy and society: legalization and a path to citizenship.