Humphrey School News

Associate Professor Ryan Allen: Immigration Policy Under the Trump Administration

December 1, 2016
Associate Professor Ryan Allen

Ryan Allen, associate professor in the Urban and Regional Planning Area at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and an expert on immigration, was one of several faculty members from the School to participate in a November 30 panel discussion on key issues facing the incoming Donald Trump administration. Allen spoke about Trump's approach to immigration policy. Here are his complete remarks on the subject:

From the very beginning, when he broadly categorized many Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, vitriolic rhetoric concerning immigration defined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now that he is president-elect, an assessment of Trump’s stated policy positions on immigration indicate that much of what he promised he can theoretically implement through executive authority, or pursue by working with a sympathetic Republican majority in Congress.

Until he proves otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that he intends to follow through on his campaign promises in this area, though it is also important to point out capacity limitations he will face.

President-elect Trump’s most aggressive immigration campaign promises involve a more vigorous approach to deportations of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. In his first 100 days, Trump has pledged to rescind President Obama’s executive actions that provided temporary deferred action on deportation for unauthorized immigrants meeting certain criteria (DACA and DAPA). According to his campaign website, Trump has also pledged to deport two to three million “criminal illegal immigrants,” cancel federal funding to sanctuary cities, fully fund the construction of a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border, and suspend immigration from “terror prone regions” of the world.

President Obama has deported more immigrants than any of his predecessors (2.5 million) and President-elect Trump has promised to deport a comparable number of immigrants in his first 100 days in office. Within the confines of existing budgets and absent significant collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, it is extremely unlikely that the Trump Administration will be able to quickly increase deportations at the scale he has promised.

Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled that budgetary support for an increased deportation force is not on the table, and many large cities around the U.S. have indicated their unwillingness to work in partnership with federal immigration officials to increase deportations. Further, due process requirements mean that most unauthorized immigrants who are targeted for removal are eligible for an immigration court hearing. Immigration courts currently have a backlog of over 500,000 cases, with an average wait time of 675 days before a removal hearing.

Decisions about the admission of non-citizens to the U.S. are generally the purview of Congress, but Trump would have the authority to deny admission to immigrants he believes would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Thus, it is possible that Trump will follow through on his pledge to suspend immigration from specific parts of the world by citing a concern about terrorism. On the other hand, his website campaign pledge to reduce the level of immigration to the U.S. to “levels within historic norms” will most certainly be up to Congress.

Much remains to be seen for immigration policy under the Trump administration. Ambitious campaign promises will run up against the reality of fiscal and legal limitations faced by all presidents. At the same time, Trump’s choice of Jeff Sessions, who has been consistently antagonistic toward immigration during his time as a senator, as his nominee for Attorney General signals a doubling-down on harsh campaign promises when it comes to immigration.

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