Trump Completed 472 Executive Actions on Immigration During His Presidency, Many That Could Have Lasting Effects on the U.S. Immigration System
WASHINGTON — Over the course of his four years in the White House, Donald Trump and his administration completed 472 executive actions on immigration, with 39 more proposed but unimplemented when his term ended, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) finds in a new report that sums up one of the most active and consequential presidencies on immigration. Through these actions, which range from sweeping policies to smaller, more technical adjustments, the Trump presidency made deep, and likely lasting, changes to the U.S. immigration system.
The report, Four Years of Profound Change: Immigration Policy during the Trump Presidency, completes a body of MPI work that catalogued the administration’s immigration policy from its first 100 days through its first, second and third years. Though Trump may not have delivered on his most sweeping promises, such as deporting millions of unauthorized immigrants or walling off all 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration significantly restricted humanitarian protection, increased enforcement and made legal immigration more difficult, analysts Jessica Bolter, Emma Israel and Sarah Pierce note.
“The Trump administration was arguably the first to take full advantage of the executive branch’s vast authority on immigration. Despite the relative fragility of executive actions when compared to legislation, the pace and comprehensiveness of the moves taken by Trump and his administration likely ensure that some will have lasting effects on the U.S. immigration system long after his time in office,” they conclude. “At the very least, the Trump administration set a precedent for conducting far-reaching immigration changes through executive activism.”
The report notes the administration’s practice of anchoring its immigration objectives with a layered strategy of regulatory, policy and programmatic changes, making it difficult for opponents to keep pace with and counter each measure. This was the case, for example, with public charge standards revisions designed to prevent many lower-income immigrants from entering the United States. The administration advanced near-simultaneous changes to public charge regulations and agency guidance across U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the State Department and other agencies.
The first presidential candidate in modern U.S. history to win an election on an immigration-centered platform, Trump brought into mainstream political discourse the previously discredited idea that legal immigration is a threat to U.S. economic and national security. Amid new barriers to applying for immigration benefits, increased vetting and the chilling effects from increased enforcement, green-card applications fell 17 percent in fiscal 2019 and 22 percent in fiscal 2020 from the number in fiscal 2016.
Perhaps Trump’s biggest focus, however, at least rhetorically, was on immigration enforcement, both at the border and in the U.S. interior. Even so, fiscal 2019 witnessed the highest number of migrant apprehensions at the southwest border since fiscal 2007. The report outlines a combination of border policies implemented in response, including introducing the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as Remain in Mexico), sharply narrowing access to asylum for border crossers and pressuring Mexico to increase its enforcement efforts. Within the United States, the administration changed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prosecutorial discretion guidance, effectively making most unauthorized immigrants a priority for arrest and deportation. Yet amid pushback from some jurisdictions and resources drawn to the border, ICE arrests and removals decreased from Barack Obama’s second term, with 549,000 arrests and 935,000 removals from fiscal 2017-2020, as compared to 640,000 arrests and 1,160,000 removals during fiscal 2013-2016.
The Trump administration also admitted the fewest refugees in a single year up to that point since the modern resettlement program began in 1980. The decreased arrivals and associated funding cuts resulted in a reduction in resettlement capacity that likely will take years to rebuild.
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/four-years-change-immigration-trump.
And for a review of the executive actions on immigration taken during President Joe Biden’s first year in office, check out our recent work, Biden at the One-Year Mark: A Greater Change in Direction on Immigration Than Is Recognized.