Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” on the face of it seemed to envisage a re-energized America, taking its center stage and performing its central role in world politics. However, immigration policies during Trump’s presidency were one of the most provocative. Immigration policies on refugee resettlements from banned countries, constraints to legal immigration, asylum-seeking, border re-enforcement, deportation, and even non-admittance of individuals from certain countries with a majority of the Muslim population marred Trump’s presidency.
President Trump put into motion an Executive Order indefinitely suspending Syrian refugees’ resettlement, resting general refugee resettlement, and barring citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations into the United States. The Order was challenged on legal grounds. For instance, in State of Washington v Donald J. Trump et al., a temporary injunction was put on some parts of the Executive Order by a district court. The president invoked his powers under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It empowered him to suspend the entry of individuals into the United States on reasonable grounds that were detrimental to the United States’ interests. Immigrants and non-immigrants from Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, and Iran were suspended for ninety days except for diplomatic or organizational visas. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security was to submit, after sixty days, a list of other countries to be added to the list. Section 5 of the Executive Order also suspended the Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days for revision purposes. Section 5(c) stopped Syrian Refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. Even before this Order, Syrian refugees were undergoing higher scrutiny than others. This Order carved the refugee ceiling to 50,000 from 110,000 during Obama’s administration. All these restrictions were to thwart terrorism efforts, as per section 1 of the Executive Order.
The restrictions have been seen as an attempt by the United States to subjugate refugee rights by extending an open bias towards refugees from the majority-Muslim countries. Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General- critiqued the ban for violating basic international principles and wasn’t explicitly fighting terrorism. This Order was detrimental to the United States’ image as a beacon of light in world politics. Before the Executive Order, the United States was generous in admitting refugees to its shores. Besides, in jointly asserting equal treatment, protection, and assistance of refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called on the United States to reclaim its longstanding refugee tolerance policy. This Order created a dent in the United States’ legacy for being intolerant to refugees and exhibiting individualism over multilateralism.
Asylum seekers were barred from entering the United States during Trump’s administration through a throttling border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Specifically, through the Prompt Asylum Case Review and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Programs, the administration managed to bar asylum eligibility for persons transiting through other countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border by determining and denying a majority of protection claims from asylum seekers within ten days. There was also the Transit-Country Asylum ban initiative established in 2019 that makes asylum-seeking off-limits. The Supreme Court of the United States in 2019 declared the legality of applying this initiative to all non-Mexicans. The policy was initially introduced as an interim measure to Mexican migrants. Therefore, through this, non-Mexican asylum seekers who transited through other countries and weren’t able to demonstrate that they applied for and denied asylum in those countries were barred from entering the United States as asylum seekers.
Actions restricting legal entry into the United States were put in place during President Trump’s administration. Trump’s ‘restriction philosophy’ was aimed at terminating Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs (DACA), and cutting employment-based immigration through the 2017 “Buy American Hire American” Executive Order. Additionally, extreme vetting was practiced to lock-out as many individuals as possible.
Immigration Policies and Democracy
President Trump’s immigration policies and actions have been a threat to democracy and democratic principles that the United States has hold dear. The Nationality Act of 1965 revoked nationality as a foundation for United States immigration admission. It also revoked immigration policies that gave priority to those individuals who would assimilate better to the American culture. They were both discriminatory. The Discretion under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act was legally invoked by President Trump as discussed above. Therefore, it follows then that barring immigration due to terrorism is legal and democratic.
However, barring individuals without reasonable reasons and in bad faith from all over the world and specifically from seven countries from immigrating to the United States is contentious. These Executive Orders seem to go against the basic principle of the 1965 law that prohibits immigration discrimination based on national origin. It was a threat to democracy. President Trump used the Immigration and Nationality Act to overcome democratic principles. He defeated the letter and the spirit of the Nationality Act, 1965. President Trump assumed that the individuals from the listed countries were a terrorism threat. It is false. An immigration expert at the Cato Institute-Alex Nowrasteh opined that zero persons from the countries listed perpetrated terrorist attacks in the United States from 1975 to 2015.
The immigration bans and protocols cement the notion that the United States is Islam phobic and at war with Islam. The policies violate the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees signed by the United States in 1967. The Protocols mandates member states to protect refugees and, the temporary ban obliterated this protection. Asylum seekers have always been protected by the widely accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration guarantees the rights of asylum seekers. The United States was against asylum-seeking by placing throttling policies as discussed above. Therefore, as the United States was previously thought to be at the center of multilateralism, it was moving towards a selfish and individualistic nature.
Immigration Policies and “manifest destiny”
Trump’s immigration policies also relate to the “manifest destiny” coupled with his slogan “Make America Great Again.” Manifest destiny was the notion that white Americans were ordained and divinely authorized to occupy North America at all other native tribes’ expense. Trump’s slogan presented the manifest destiny through the skewed immigration policies aimed at barricading all other persons worldwide from quickly entering and establishing themselves in the United States. As mentioned earlier, this perpetuates an individualistic nature of the United States.
Immigration Policies and the Black Lives Matter movement
Trump’s immigration policies are a blow to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Firstly, immigrants’ participation in the Black Lives Matter movement is limited due to deportation risk, unlike United States’ Citizens. Additionally, President Trump’s administration rescinded the DACA program, which affected over 800,000 immigrants from all races including, black ones. The annulment, coupled with the immigration policies, attempted to take America back to the days when being an American was being white. To a greater extent, these policies are also aimed at ‘eliminating’ people of color from the United States. The immigration laws and procedures have been written to oppress immigrants and advance whiteness as the laws have not fully shaken off supremacist origins.
Chishti, M. & Bolter, J. (2018). Even as congress remains on sidelines, the Trump administration slows legal immigration: Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
Chishti, M. & Bolter, J. (2020). Interlocking set of Trump administrative policies at the U.S.-Mexico border bans virtually all from asylum. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
Pierce, S. & Meissner, D. (2017). Trump Executive Order on refugees and travel ban: A brief review. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute