Legal and illegal immigration into the United States has slowed considerably under President Donald Trump.
That trend may become even more pronounced in the new year, especially if his restrictionist policies are upheld in court.
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For the time being, judges have blocked two key components of Trump’s immigration policies: funding for portions of his proposed border wall and tougher hurdles for immigrants to gain legal entry into the U.S.
Also looming is a Supreme Court ruling that could determine whether some 800,000 immigrants granted temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals can be subject to deportation.
Even with those legal cases pending, border apprehensions are down as are approvals of asylum requests. Part of that is the result of both an overwhelmed system and the so-called Remain in Mexico policy that requires migrants seeking asylum in the United States to wait south of the border before getting consideration — often for months on end, even years.
It hasn’t been pretty: Courts are clogged, families have been separated, and conditions at some detention centers have been described as deplorable.
The number of cases in San Diego’s immigration court tripled over the last year, according to Gustavo Solis of The San Diego Union-Tribune. The approval rate for those under the Migrant Protection Protocols, or Remain in Mexico, is minuscule — 0.1 percent, he wrote.
New rules recently proposed by the administration would make it even tougher to obtain asylum.
Migrants seeking legal status in the U.S. through asylum often contend they face violence in their home countries. Migrants also fear for their safety while waiting in Tijuana, where some say they have been attacked and threatened with kidnapping and extortion. Well-meaning efforts to establish shelters for them have sometimes come up short — sewage flowed into one just last week.
With the long waits in Mexico and shrinking chances of winning asylum, more and more migrants are considering returning to their home countries, mostly in Central America, despite the risks.
Meanwhile, attempted illegal entries, as gauged by apprehensions in U.S. border zones, are way down after spiking in the spring. For example, there were more than 144,116 “apprehensions/inadmissibles” along the southwest border in May compared with 42,649 in November, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Some migrant advocates say with all the attention on the caravans from Central America and U.S. detention centers, a slowdown of legal immigration is being overlooked.
Applicants are sitting for more interviews and submitting more paperwork, while the denial rate steadily rises, according to Forbes magazine. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released figures in the spring that show the rejection rate was 80 percent higher in the final three months of 2018 than the same period in 2016, the last quarter of the Obama administration.
“It’s a bunch of different policies and decisions that have added up to a significant shift,” Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Forbes. “I think one reason the slowdown in legal immigration hasn’t gotten as much attention is because it’s not just one big newsworthy change, but rather a bunch of clever, smaller changes that have added up to a large impact.”
If the Trump administration has its way, more restrictions are coming. In November, a federal judge in Oregon blocked a Trump proclamation that would require immigrants to show proof of health insurance to get visas. The administration is planning to appeal.
Trump further wants to reshape the system, away from family-linked immigration to one based on “merit” that focuses on job skills. Some critics initially said this would reduce legal immigration, but the administration says it would keep it at current levels, while shifting the focus of who will be let in. So far there hasn’t been much interest in Congress in advancing that proposal.
Trump’s most famous immigration policy — the proposal to build hundreds of miles of border wall — remains mired in legal, logistical and political limbo. His efforts to circumvent opposition from congressional Democrats has been blocked by judges, who have ruled his plan to use of billions of dollars in military construction funds to build it is illegal. But the administration has expressed confidence that Trump will eventually win, even if it takes appealing to the Supreme Court.
He has pledged to have the project completed by the end of this year, when he is up for re-election, but many property owners in Texas are not willing to give up their land needed for it.
Speaking of the Supreme Court, a ruling is expected possibly by spring on the fate of DACA recipients who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children. After oral arguments were heard in September, several analysts said a court majority appeared to agree that Trump has the power to end the program, which he tried to do more than two years ago.
Public opinion polls show sweeping majorities favor giving the so-called “dreamers” continued legal status, but efforts to find a remedy in Washington have fallen flat.
Like everything else, immigration policy will take a back seat — at least over the short term — during the ongoing impeachment drama. Senate acquittal of Trump seems assured, but the president and his Republican supporters are feeling a bit more heat, as underscored by the recent call for his removal from office by Christianity Today, a leading evangelical publication.
Many of Trump’s evangelical supporters have since come out in his defense. One of them is Guillermo Maldonado, pastor of King Jesus Ministries in Miami. He’s hosting an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally for the president on Friday. In doing so, Maldonado has caused a bit of a stir.
In an unusual confluence of political currents, the Honduran pastor felt compelled to assure his congregants that any who are unauthorized immigrants would not be risking deportation by attending.
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