Trump Got Tough on Immigration

Activists demonstrated against deportations of immigrants during a protest in New York City on January 11. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

This article is part of a series that reflects on the first year of the Trump administration.

Between ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many countries, the Trump administration has worked to curb unauthorized immigration and send thousands of Latin Americans back to their countries of origin, undermining his own foreign policy.

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What was US policy prior to Trump? The Obama administration sought comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform that expanded paths to citizenship and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In 2014, immigration reform faced backlash when more than two dozen states sued the administration for “failing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.”

During Obama’s eight years in office, roughly  5.3 million immigrants were deported from the United States. Removals increased significantly relative to previous administrations but the total number of deportations (removals plus returns) was over 40 percent lower than during the Clinton and George W. Bush eras.

What has Trump said?

“We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.”

—    US President Donald J. Trump at a campaign event in Arizona on August 31, 2016.


What has changed?
The Trump administration’s overarching goal has been to reduce authorized and unauthorized immigration. Between ending DACA, eliminating the Central American Minors (CAM) program, and terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for many countries, the administration has worked to send thousands of Latin Americans back to their countries of origin.

In Central America, the influx of returnees would negatively impact US policy objectives to improve security and economic opportunity in the region. Contrary to expectations, total deportations are down relative to Obama’s last year in office, but total immigration arrests are up. Additionally, Trump’s rhetoric has effectively served as a strong deterrent, with the number of people attempting to cross the border illegally having decreased by nearly 25 percent.

Nevertheless, the termination of TPS—and to a lesser extent, DACA—without a legislative fix would increase the number of returnees substantially, with nearly 200,000 Salvadorans and 60,000 Hondurans poised to lose their legal protection in 2019.

Juan Felipe Celia is an assistant director in the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center . Follow him on Twitter @jfcelia.

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