Editor’s note: The opinions below are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.
By Barbara Franz
On Jan. 25, 2018, the White House made public the one-page framework for a legislative deal to provide permanent immigration status to DACA recipients.
President Trump’s proposal, in addition to the four-page memo released on Jan. 9 that included the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities for a new immigration bill, is reminiscent of the Immigration Act of 1924.
That law, in conjunction with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, limited immigration to certain quotas by country of origin and remained in place until 1965.
The Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts in legal immigration, as part of its price tag to legalize the Dreamers who were eligible for a deportation-relief program killed by President Trump himself.
The White House is pressing to cut family-sponsored immigration by as much as 40 percent and to eliminate the diversity visa lottery. The diversity visa program makes available 50,000 green cards annually.
The intention behind the so-called green card lottery is to diversify the U.S. population by selecting applicants from countries that are underrepresented in the country. Globally, the program is very popular; for example in 2017 alone about 20 million people applied for the lottery worldwide. Trump wants to eliminate this program.
Effects of this immigration reform would be similar to those of the 1924 Act. The national origin quotas within the 1924 legislation used the number of expatriates from a particular country who resided in the United States in 1890, and limited to 2 percent of that number the new immigrants from that country admitted annually.
Due to this quota formula, immigration from Italy fell from an average of 216,000 per year in the period from 1905 to 1914, to just over 6,000 in 1924, according to Ben Larricia in La Gazzetta Italiana.
In addition to restricting immigration by Italians, the law reduced immigration by other Southern- and Eastern Europeans, including Slavs and Jews, and severely limited the immigration of Africans.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not repealed until 1943, eliminated immigration of all Chinese workers. Initially, American labor recruiters filled the void with immigrants from Japan and other South Asian countries.
Asian immigrants filled jobs important to “Making America Great,” working in steel, meat-packing, and mining and made up to 15 percent of the US population and 24 percent of the labor force in 1910.
Trump’s plan similarly would result in restricting immigration. The plan’s proposed cuts align with those put forth by the Trump-endorsed RAISE Act—whose authors estimated the bill eventually would lead to a 50-percent reduction in legal immigration.
The cuts also are in line with those proposed in the Securing America’s Future Act drafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).
Under that plan, Americans would lose the right to petition for their parents, adult- or married children, or siblings, to join them, allowing them only to reunite with spouses and minor children.
And legal permanent residents, who have had more limited ability to reunify with relatives, would no longer be able to petition for their adult children. According to Julia Gelatt and Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute, the diversity visa lottery and these family-sponsored categories proposed for elimination made up one-third of all new green-card recipients in fiscal year 2016.
It is notable that the Trump administration is willing to increase the size of the group of immigrants who will be put on a decade-long path to legalization beyond just the current 800,000 DACA recipients.
However, the proposed 1.8 million legalized residents still make up only 16 percent of our total unauthorized immigrant population (estimated at 11.3 million). In other words the administration appears to be willing to legalize the Dreamers but not their parents, who would be left behind to be terrorized through a vastly expanded national deportation apparatus.
Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute is right when he claims that many of President Trump’s demands are “bad ideas,” rooted in racism and xenophobia.
Some commentators, such as Costa, argue for a separation of legislation for DACA recipients from legislation for the other cohorts of undocumented migrants because the Dreamers need a quick humanitarian solution that ensures their ability to remain in the country, and continue to study and work.
In exchange for legalizing less than one-sixth of the unauthorized population, the administration asks to enact sweeping enhancements to border security and interior enforcement.
The administration’s framework provides little detail on the intended changes for border security, though it does specify a $25 billion trust fund for “the border wall system,” ports of entry/exit, and northern border improvements.
This number, seemingly pulled from thin air, is an inflated increase from the $18 billion the White House called for less than one year ago. Plans for the wall are hazy and Trump’s one-page proposal provides no reasoning for the $7 billion increase, nor exactly how that enormous amount of money actually would be used.
The framework also vaguely refers to reforming the hiring of “critically needed personnel.” This is likely a reference to the hiring difficulties encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
While the hiring process includes a lengthy polygraph exam that two-thirds of applicants fail, the hiring process for a new agent currently takes about nine months, according to Gelatt and Pierce.
They also note the curious observation that the CBP apparently hires 523 agents per year, but it loses an average of 904 agents annually. Thus, it might be more efficient to provide the agents, once hired, with a comprehensive pay and benefits package, rather than reforming hiring practices.
The White House wants to end “catch and release.” The term has no clear definition, but as used by the President, appears to refer to those policies and practices that allow unaccompanied minors, some families, and some asylum seekers to be released into the community during their asylum or removal proceedings.
The administration’s proposal could involve detaining these groups while they wait for their day in court and therewith contributing to growth of the prison industry.
The other option would be to refuse entry to large numbers of people. In 2017, some 41,435 unaccompanied children and 75,622 family units were apprehended at the Southwest border, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
To keep more than 100,000 people in the desert and other precarious areas along the southern border would turn the region into an area overrun with desperate migrants, similar to that in Morocco outside the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
There, hundreds of desperate African refugees and migrants are frequently apprehended attempting to climb over electrified fences to reach European soil. Trump’s policy would certainly bring human wretchedness and suffering much closer to America’s suburbs and gated communities.
In addition, the administration proposes prompt removals, “regardless of country of origin.” This language apparently suggests elimination of the special treatment currently given to those children arriving from non-contiguous countries.
Such a policy might result in the turning back at the border of young unaccompanied minors unless quick screening determines they are either at risk for human trafficking or have a justified fear they will be killed if they return home.
Of course, numerous of Mexican children already experience “prompt removals” at present.
The administration’s plan would strip all apprehended people of their right to a deportation hearing before a judge. Once apprehended, an undocumented immigrant or a visa over-stayer would be processed immediately for removal from the country, no matter her circumstances or eligibility for other forms of relief. This provision would flat-out deny due process.
Labeled as the deal that will fix DACA, this administration proposal does fix DACA — but it also attempts to rewrite most of the rest of the immigration code.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director with the national immigrant youth network United We Dream explains: “Let’s call this proposal for what it is: A white-supremacist ransom note!”
This is the secret to understanding this plan. It’s less about addressing the actual problems that exist within the immigration system than it is an attempt to engineer a less-brown demographic future.
Unfortunately for Trump and his base, the demographic shifts under way in the country may be slowed, but cannot be stopped! According to the Center for American Progress, every month some 66,000 Latinos in the United States turn 18, and Asians are the fastest growing segment of the US population.
Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.