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Trump’s First 100 Days: Immigration Promises, Progress and Pitfalls

By Hunter Hallman

Friday, April 28, 2017

Among the most integral and defining promises of President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail were those on immigration. The first 100 days on immigration have been marked by a flurry of high-profile actions from the Trump administration intended to make good on those promises. However, several of those steps have been blocked by the courts, faced pushback from Congress, or have yet to materialize into actual policy or regulation. Still, the administration has taken initial steps in certain areas of immigration policy over which it has more authority to act without Congress, including interior immigration enforcement. What was arguably his most notable campaign trail promise—building a border wall and making Mexico pay for it—remains in limbo. Mexico remains adamant it will not contribute to the costs. The White House also appears to have backed off demands to have border wall funding included in the government funding package that must be passed this week.

The first 100 days on immigration have been marked by a flurry of high-profile actions from the Trump administration.

Politifact lists at least 17 specific policy promises related to immigration Trump made during the campaign, including deporting criminal immigrants, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and instituting extreme vetting and a Muslim ban. Here we explore four of those promises listed in his plan for the first 100 days.

Promises, Actions, and Inactions

Promise: Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions and institute extreme vetting.

Action: “Muslim Ban.” While these promises were made at separate points of the campaign, they have become known as one idea: the “Muslim ban.” Trump’s initial executive order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” signed within days of entering office, temporarily barred nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States, suspended the worldwide U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, and indefinitely suspended the entry of refugees from Syria. The administration’s own mixed messages on whether the order was a ban or not proved to be a key point against the order when the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled to uphold a stay issued by a federal judge in Washington state. A revised order was issued on March 6, which eliminated Iraq from the list of countries whose nationals were temporarily barred, removed the indefinite suspension of Syrians from the refugee program, and removed the stated preference for “religious minorities” in Muslim-majority countries that was to take effect after USRAP’s 120-day suspension. However, both executive orders cut the overall refugee program from 110,000 to 50,000 entrants annually. The revised order was halted by new stays from federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. The 9th Circuit Court will hear the administration’s appeal of the Hawaii judge’s order (which was broader than that of the Maryland court) in May.

As a candidate, Trump also made frequent calls for “extreme vetting,” and while the term wasn’t explicitly defined in either of his two executive orders on terrorist entry, it called on DHS, the State Department, the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence to undertake a review of current practices and implement uniform screening standards for all immigration programs to identify individuals seeking to cause harm or enter on a fraudulent basis. Building on the order’s call for stricter scrutiny, the State Department sent four cables of additional guidelines to instruct embassies and consular officials on how to interpret the vetting instructions in the revised order. In practice, these “extreme” measures have taken the form of social media screening (which had been a part of vetting policy previously, but is expected to be expanded) and cell phone inspections. For a more in-depth explainer of previous and future vetting methods, see our expert webcast on the subject.

Promise: Cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities

Action: Halting Justice Department funds for sanctuary cities. It would seem that President Trump fully intends to keep this promise—insofar as he is constitutionally allowed to do so. To that end, he first appointed former Sen. Jeff Sessions, a strong opponent of sanctuary cities, as Attorney General. Five days after his inauguration, Trump’s Executive Order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” stated that “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary,“ and required new weekly reports on all noncompliant jurisdictions and criminal activities by undocumented immigrants. Sessions has since delivered remarks remarks signaling the government’s intent to cut funding from these jurisdictions and sent letters to several jurisdictions specifically. However, the original order is currently under legal challenge by several cities, and the weekly “Declined Detainer Reports” have been suspended amid skepticism on the accuracy of the data.

On April 25, mere days before the 100-day mark, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked President Trump’s directive to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities by issuing a preliminary injunction. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has said the administration intends to continue the legal battle.

Promise: Immediately cancel all of Barack Obama’s executive orders

Action: Unclear. In his campaign immigration speech in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 31, 2016, then-candidate Trump said he would “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.” However, the original Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program from 2012 remains in place, after confusing signals from President Trump on whether or not he would overturn or keep the program. Since his election, Trump has repeatedly attempted to reassure DACA recipients that they do not need to worry, but recent headlines about DREAMers being arrested for deportation have left many DACA beneficiaries in limbo. (An expanded version of DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, from President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions were already both on hold after the eight-person Supreme Court had a tie vote in 2016 over their implementation.)

What promises on immigration has President Trump met during his first 100 days in office?  

Promise: Hire American workers first

Action: Hire American. Trump’s latest executive order is called “Buy American and Hire American,” and focuses on changes to H-1B program—a visa program for temporary foreign workers in specialty occupation fields requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. The order calls for a look at the immigration system in general to prevent fraud and abuse, but the H-1B program is the only visa category mentioned by name. This is likely because H-1B visas more frequently make headlines alleging abuse. In addition, the order specifically mentions “rigorous” enforcement of section 212(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which focuses on ensuring the qualifications of immigrants applying for green cards are sufficient and that “the employment of such alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed.” While the order is certainly a step in the “America first” direction, congressional action and further regulation will be required to achieve many of its goals.

Action: Limit Legal Immigration. Our recent blog post on the Buy American and Hire American executive order explores four current legislative proposals that would attempt to reform temporary worker programs without necessarily imposing stricter caps on the number of immigrants (and in some cases, raising said caps). As for limiting legal immigration, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) have introduced a bill that would sharply reduce immigration by amending the INA itself to reduce family sponsored immigrants, cap the number of refugees accepted into the United States at 50,000 a year, and reduce the overall number of immigrants allowed into the United States by 50 percent over the course of a decade. Finally, during his address to a joint session of Congress in February, President Trump discussed his desire for a more “merit-based” immigration system, moving the immigration system away from lesser-skilled workers. While he did not specifically call for fewer immigrants, such a shift might well result in fewer immigrant workers.

KEYWORDS: 115TH CONGRESS, DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA), DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, H1-B VISAS, IMMIGRATION, IRAQ, MEXICO, PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, SYRIA, TOM COTTON, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, YEMEN