Trump Team Radically Restricted Immigration

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The Trump administration has radically restricted immigration to the United States through administrative actions and executive orders, according to a leading immigration scholar. Ira Kurzban, author of the 2,650-page Kurzban’s Immigration Law Sourcebook, 17th edition, has documented the changes made since Donald Trump took office. To better understand the changes, I interviewed Kurzban about what his research revealed.

Stuart Anderson: How is a book of this size meant to be used?

Ira Kurzban: As the title implies, it is a sourcebook and should be used as the first place a lawyer, scholar, member of Congress, or someone just interested in immigration issues may go to find answers about a particular topic concerning immigration law. Immigration law inevitably intersects with constitutional law, international law, criminal law, family law, employment law, contract and tort law, and virtually every other area of practice. The Sourcebook will get you to those areas of the law as they relate to immigration.

If you are interested in learning about any area within immigration law, the book includes business, family, asylum, deportation, detention, citizenship, litigation, workers’ rights and employers’ obligations and all other areas of immigration law. It is all there. It is the place to start research in any area of immigration law that you need to investigate.

Anderson: What surprised you the most in conducting research for the book?

Kurzban: I was most surprised at how sweeping the changes in immigration law have been. The transformation of immigration law was shocking and Covid-19 has accelerated those changes in the law of asylum, relief in deportation proceedings, family and employment-based permanent immigration, and the treatment of nonimmigrants, including students, exchange scholars, multinational executives and high skilled workers. The book, in painstaking detail, covers all of those changes through July 2020.

Anderson: Is it accurate to say the Trump administration has made significant changes to the U.S. immigration system with little or no legislation passing Congress?

Kurzban: After Trump won the election, he held meetings at Trump Tower with Kris Kobach, Stephen Miller and others who sought to transform and some might say disfigure immigration law. In the earliest days of the Trump administration they announced a plan to develop a highly restrictive immigration policy with a narrow point system that would designate few entrants into the country. They have executed that plan in a manner that few could have imagined.

Without any new legislation, but with a complete understanding of how the immigration bureaucracy operates, they have been able to radically restrict immigration and immigration law through presidential proclamations and executive orders, and by using policy manuals, websites, forms, procedures and regulations. In essence, they have ground immigration to a halt with massive backlogs and they have reoriented the immigration field to be almost exclusively the province of enforcement agencies at the cost of granting few immigration benefits, including residency and citizenship.

They created a system of an outer wall preventing people from entering the United States, a physical wall as a barrier to entry and an “inner” wall shutting down most lawful immigration through endless investigations, interrogations and denial of benefits. At the same time, they have sought to deport massive numbers of people, and today there are over 1 million people waiting for removal proceedings. 

Anderson: What executive branch authorities have been the most important to the Trump administration’s efforts to change the immigration system?

Kurzban: Presidential proclamations and executive orders have played a key role in shutting down migration to the United States. Although these orders are temporary, Trump has continued to extend them. For example, we have a “Muslim ban” that was supposed to be for 90 days and is now in its fourth year. The most recent presidential proclamation banning most lawful permanent immigration to the United States, which was supposed to be in effect for 60 days, has now been extended to December 31, 2020, and is likely to be extended indefinitely if Trump is reelected.

Similarly, the administration has used every lever of executive authority to shut down immigration in the U.S. by establishing discretionary reasons for denying otherwise eligible applicants and by creating regulations that allow them to deny applications with impunity. By prioritizing investigations over examinations, they have ground benefit adjudications to a halt, leaving over three-quarters of a million citizenship applications and a similar amount of employment authorizations on the table without adjudication.

They have also ended asylum law as we know it by refusing to adjudicate hundreds of thousands of refugee and asylum applications that are pending, cutting refugee admissions to 18,000 with a threat to go to zero, ending virtually all forms of parole into the United States, restricting the standards for asylum and employment authorization for asylees, ending most Temporary Protected Status programs and weaponizing Covid-19 to shut the southern border in violation of the Refugee Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and our international commitments under the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Anderson: Given the past four years of the Trump administration, what reforms or changes in immigration law or policy would you like to see?

Kurzban: I believe we need to have a much broader vision, consistent with our heritage, economy and values, that recognizes the positive aspects of immigration. While the current administration has tried to demonize and denigrate immigrants, we have a long and beautiful tradition of welcoming people into our country who have made the country better economically, culturally and intellectually.

We need an immigration system that not only works for the country economically, but one that calls upon our best instincts as a world leader in welcoming people fleeing oppression and hardship. We have the capacity to be that emblem of freedom and dignity so eloquently represented by the Statute of Liberty and we need to return to policies that restore our country as an example for the rest of the world.



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