by  | Nov 2, 2020 | Politics

From left to right: Ali Noorani, President & Chief Executive Officer of the National Immigration Forum; Alex Nowrasteh, Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity; Juan Escalante, undocumented immigrant with DACA, Dreamer leader

By Pilar Marrero

A second term for the Trump Administration will likely result in further erosion of the legal immigration system and key protections granted by the 14th amendment including birthright citizenship, immigrant rights experts warn.

The 14th amendment – ratified in 1868 — granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including former slaves, and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”

“My read is that (the Trump administration’s) efforts for the 2020 Census not to count the undocumented are the early steps to making the case that the 14th amendment doesn’t apply to the immigrant community,” said Ali Noorani, President & Chief Executive Officer of the National Immigration Forum during a briefing with ethnic media. “I do expect that if we see a second term, there will be a steady stream of executive orders or even litigation to chip away at those rights.”

The balance of the first term on immigration policy was extremely damaging to the legal immigration system as well as visas for business, students and even visitors, said Alex Nowrasteh, Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

The Administration has basically shut down the asylum system and every work visa category, and cut the issuance of green cards to people seeking to immigrate to the United States by 92%, Nowrasteh noted.

“That decline in green cards for people outside of the country is the largest we have seen in American history, greater than the one we saw after first closing the open borders with Europe in the 1920s, greater than the cut during the Great Depression and both World Wars,” Nowrastreh added.

The Administration has cut refugee admissions to the United States by 85% since 2016, despite a record number of refugees needing resettlement.

“The justification for reducing asylum was national security fears that refugees from Syria or others were a serious terrorist threat. And yet, the data doesn’t bear that out”.

The analyst noted that among people killed on U.S. soil in a terrorist act between 1975 and 2017, only three were killed by admitted refugees. “And those were all in the late 1970s.”

Critics have said that the U.S. under Trump has abandoned its long-standing role as a safe haven for persecuted people.

“The government has virtually shut down the asylum system and put in place numerous restrictions,” said Nowrasteh. “Most spectacularly, the one that says they have to wait in Mexico for their court dates has resulted in refugee camps on the Mexican side of the border, a huge sham that intends to raise the personal cost and make it more difficult to gain asylum.”

In response to Covid, but continuing a trend that started before the pandemic, the US government has shut down every work visa category with the exception of H2B, the program for seasonal agricultural workers, he added.

“This is enormously destructive for the US economy”, said Nowrasteh.

Trump was successful in restricting the entrance of foreigners, but not in deporting large numbers of people, especially compared to the Obama years. “They tried, but many major cities and governors did not cooperate with the federal government and became sanctuary cities.”

Advocates for DACA recipients and other immigrants without a permanent status say that their situation will be even more precarious during a second Trump term.

Juan Escalante, a DACA recipient and long-time immigration advocate, said that he expects no move from a second Trump administration other than using DACA as a bargaining chip for obtaining more restrictive legislation from Congress.

During a recent town hall with voters, Trump responded to a question on DACA saying he would do something “you would like very much” on the issue. But Escalante is doubtful.

“If anyone believes that they need to read up on what happened in the last four years,” he said. “Although we won a reprieve from the Supreme Court this summer, the administration kept up the attacks, cutting the program from two years to one, essentially doubling the fee to apply, which puts it beyond the reach of many young people, especially students”.

Noorani indicated that if Biden wins, he expects to see a willingness to extend DACA and TPS, a temporary status that currently protects over four hundred thousand people, mostly from El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, but also Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Trump administration has moved to end the program, and most will start losing status early next year.

“I also expect a push for legalization, particularly to ensure that the essential immigrant workforce will enjoy full legal status,” he said.

Noorani advised that advocates need to broaden the pro immigrant coalition by speaking to conservatives and moderates, including religious groups, so the “demand for immigration reform doesn´t only come from immigrants but from many segments of society which are in favor of it.”

Nowrasteh said that the best path for reform for Biden would be congressional action. “Lasting reform means we need legal changes passed by Congress to create a much better immigration system, and also restrict the president power to reduce immigration in the future”.

Escalante believes that advocates need to be “pragmatic.”

“We cannot repeat mistakes of the past where we attempt to pass one thing, then we end up with nothing,” he said.