The year 2020 has been like no other in the United States. Multiple natural disasters, more protests for social justice than in previous years on racism and police topics, Immigration Policies, and a pandemic causing mass unemployment and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Americans can travel to fewer places than ever before. Legal immigration to the United States is harder, too. During the pandemic, the administration restricted employment-based visas. To complicate things more, new countries face a travel ban on immigrant visas.
This is all happening in the middle of a presidential election year. Donald Trump is running for reelection for the Republican Party. For the Democratic Party, the candidate is former Vice President Joe Biden.
There are many reasons why this election is historic. The new president will be the oldest sworn president in history, as both Trump and Biden are in their 70s. Trump, being the current president, has put many executive orders and Immigration Policies in place. The focus of the Trump administration has not only been restricting unlawful immigration. Many of the new orders have affected legal immigration. For example, there is now an expanded and more restrictive public charge rule for green card applicants. And unlike other times in history, the number of people receiving asylum in the United States is lower than ever.
The two candidates’ immigration policies are opposites: Trump wants to restrict legal immigration, and Biden envisions a more accommodating system. The Trump administration has been advocating for a points-based system. The wealthy and educated have a better shot under that system. Biden plans to do away with Trump’s changes in immigration, including family separation.
U.S. immigration policy will change one way or the other, no matter who wins the election. Immigrants who are U.S. citizens use their right to vote to affect change at the highest level. All immigrants must understand the presidential candidates’ immigration plans. This way, immigrant families and communities know what to expect.
Where Do the Candidates Stand on Immigration?
Overview: Trump’s Immigration Plans
Trump has largely based his immigration policy on enforcement and deterrence. While Trump hasn’t deported more people than President Obama, capturing prospective asylum seekers at the Mexican border has been a powerful deterrent. Trump’s campaign promise of a “big, beautiful wall,” which has largely been paid for with Pentagon money, has mostly consisted of renovating existing sections and hasn’t really made people immigrate less. In fact, there have not been many new laws introduced; that would take cooperation from Congress. Instead, the Trump administration has generally chosen to interpret existing law more extremely. There is a combination of policies that have made many think twice about coming to the United States or made their potential applications not possible:
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents feel encouraged by the president to take more drastic measures to capture irregular immigrants.
- Travel bans are imposed on several Middle Eastern and African countries of primarily Muslim majorities.
- The “Remain in Mexico” program, where asylum seekers need to wait on the status of their applications in countries often posing the same dangers they fled, doesn’t seem worthwhile for many to seek asylum in the United States; and
- The newly interpreted “public charge rule” requires that immigrant visa applicants prove they have enough means to support themselves without needing a government assistance program.
Overview: Biden’s Immigration Plans
Vice President Biden’s immigration agenda is closer to President Obama’s policies. It’s a two-part plan that includes:
- Strengthening some of the policies enacted under the Obama-Biden administration – such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); and
- Undoing or reversing some of President Trump’s policies, such as separating families at the southern border.
Biden also plans to restore Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and make it easier for those seeking asylum to remain in the United States while the application is pending. Most importantly, a Biden administration would seek to pass laws that provide a path to a lawful status – and eventual citizenship – for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
As part of his immigration agenda, Biden also plans to return to the Obama administration practice of providing aid to Central American countries to improve conditions at home. In the hopes that people decide to stay home and make things better in their countries instead of taking the long, dangerous journey through Mexico to migrate to the United States.
Let’s break down each of the candidates’ immigration plans by the specific topics that they address:
Both Trump and Biden agree that U.S. immigration policy requires making the borders secure. Trump hopes to continue building a physical barrier – the wall – and sending more agents – Border Patrol and ICE – to the southern border.
To fund the wall, Trump plans to continue using funds meant for military projects and fight drug trafficking. The president plans to divert these projects five times what Congress has authorized to be used for it. The Trump campaign has made continuing construction of a border wall a central piece of his re-election campaign, even though the administration has built far less than expected and faced multiple legal challenges for building the wall on private land.
On the other hand, Biden wants to focus his border security efforts on improving technology on the southern border and in ports of entry. Ports of entry are where most illegal drugs cross into the United States.
According to Biden’s immigration plan briefing, his administration’s priorities on border security will include using technology such as cameras, sensors, and more modern equipment such as X-ray machines at ports of entry. Biden also wants to improve communication between agencies that work in different aspects of immigration. For example, Customs and Border Protection is under the Department of Homeland Security. Still, if you – or your children – are detained, you are under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. More often than not, government agencies don’t collaborate or share data, making border security more difficult.
Trump’s Plans – Present and Future
The Trump administration hasn’t been shy in using executive power to limit individuals’ entrance from different countries. In fact, Trump enacted a travel ban barring individuals from countries of primarily Muslim populations in the early days of his term. It was challenged in court almost immediately, but the Supreme Court upheld the ban in a close 5-4 decision.
Getting the judiciary on his side gave Trump the confidence to enact more travel restrictions, some of which came to their highest levels during the coronavirus pandemic. In February, the Trump administration expanded its travel bans to include several countries in Africa, including citizens of Nigeria, Tanzania, and Eritrea, countries with which the United States has traditionally had good relations. The ban also included a few Central Asian countries and prevented individuals from settling in the U.S. as permanent residents. However, they can still get tourist visas.
The president has routinely referred to individuals from the countries included in his travel bans – and many others – in pejorative terms. It’s expected that if re-elected, the president will push for implementing a points-based system that would make immigration depend on factors such as age, how much English you know, the kind of jobs you qualify for, and the likelihood of needing public assistance once you immigrate. Many point out that many low-skills jobs such as those in agriculture and the service industry are mostly performed by immigrants, many of whom would be disqualified from immigrating if this system is put in place. Critics contend that this would represent a serious problem for the American economy.
Biden’s Stance on Current Travel Bans
Biden has come out strongly opposing the travel bans put in place by the Trump administration. The bans are for individuals from mostly Muslim countries. Biden has claimed these travel bans have increased islamophobia in the United States and unfairly target minorities.
Biden pledged to end the travel bans “on his first day in office” and go beyond by working with Congress to pass stronger laws on hate crimes. Biden has pointed out the rise in hate crimes over the past three years as evidence to support the argument that Trump’s rhetoric has created a hostile environment for minorities. Over the summer, Biden was endorsed by Emgage Action, the country’s largest Muslim political group.
Even though the Obama administration deported more immigrants than Trump has so far — a cloud that has hung heavily over Biden since the primary — deportations, and the family separations that have come with them have been highly visible during the Trump administration. Conservative think tanks hope to see the administration allowing immigration courts to decide on pending cases without an audience, something they cannot do under current law. Immigration courts are seeing higher numbers of denials for employment-based visas. The public charge rule is also forcing some families to abandon their plans to help a relative immigrate. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of immigration judges, immigration courts in the United States face a record-high backlog.
While the Obama administration prioritized deporting those with a criminal record, deportations under the Trump administration have expanded significantly to include individuals with no criminal offenses. Many of these individuals were cooperative and routinely checking in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as required. Although Trump’s plans for “expedited removal” proceedings are being challenged in court, it’s safe to expect a second Trump term to advocate for allowing immigration judges more discretion in deciding cases, just as USCIS has been given ample discretion decide immigration petitions.
Not only is the Trump administration continuing to attempt to get authorization for fast-track deportations, but in early 2020 rolled a plan to capture DNA from those detained in immigration facilities to fight crime. Civil rights advocates see in this a serious violation of migrant detainees’ privacy. DNA could lead immigration authorities to relatives of the detainees who live in the United States and put them through scrutiny, whether they are legally in the U.S. or not.
Biden, who believes the United States immigration system is primarily humanitarian, has pledged to no deportations for his administration’s first 100 days.
He then plans to focus on deporting those with criminal convictions and improving case management on the court system. As part of the 100-day moratorium on deportations, a Biden administration would also stop separating families at the southern border and focus on national security threats for deportation.
The most significant change Trump intends to move forward with is deporting those who immigrate as children without documents. At the moment, many undocumented young people are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program put in place by the Obama administration. After an attempt by the Trump administration to wind down the DACA program, the Supreme Court forced the administration to reinstate it. The Supreme Court DACA decision didn’t go as far as to say that suspending DACA was unconstitutional, just that the Trump administration had committed some errors in the process. For the time being, existing DACA recipients may renew their status in one-year increments. However, no new individuals may apply. Legal experts have pointed out that this suspension can have serious negative effects on children and DACA recipients.
Help for DACA recipients has been on the table through both of the coronavirus relief packages passed by the House, including the HEROES Act passed early this summer. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill. The Democratic-controlled House insists on the need for a legal solution for DACA recipients and including them in aid packages, something that the Republican-controlled Senate will not consider.
According to Biden’s immigration plan, DACA recipients will receive federal student aid and options to become permanent residents. Biden has also pledged to work on passing legislation to offer a path to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., increasing the cap for employment-based visas, and creating work visa programs with options for cities and counties to petition for additional visas that will give their regions the workers they need to promote economic growth.
What does this all mean for you?
Both candidates have very ambitious plans for immigration that, if enacted, will change the nature of the U.S. immigration system for years to come. Since Trump is the incumbent, he plans on continuing his current policies, limiting legal immigration, imposing economic restrictions that affect the eligibility of applicants, and reducing the number of people applying to the U.S. for asylum. If Biden is elected, he intends to put a significant effort into reversing or undoing many of the Trump years’ most aggressive policies while restoring the traditionally welcoming attitude the United States has had regarding immigrants and the majority of the public opinion still has about immigration. Most Americans – in fact, more than 60% – believe immigration is good for the country, and immigrants make positive contributions. It remains to be seen what direction the country will take, based on whether Americans choose to reelect Trump or elect Biden.
Whether the American people decide on the Trump administration 2.0 or a new Biden administration in November, USCIS application processing goes on. Your immigration plans should include preparing an application that meets all the requirements. Apply for your immigration
You can vote in the presidential election if you are a U.S. citizen. If you recently became a citizen, check your state’s Board of Elections to see how long you have to register to vote. They can also tell you if you can vote by mail or have to vote in person.
If you are a lawful permanent resident of the United States, you don’t have the right to vote in a general election. Only U.S. citizens can vote in the presidential election. No matter how much you want to vote in the upcoming election, do not register to vote if you are a resident. It could cost you your chance at citizenship.