How Would Trump’s Immigration Plan Change the U.S.?

In his first presidential term, Donald Trump obstructed asylum, imposed a “Muslim Ban,” undermined Temporary Protected Status, terminated DACA and separated families at the border. This time, his immigration plans are even more ambitious.

In his first presidential term, Donald Trump obstructed asylum, imposed a “Muslim Ban,” undermined Temporary Protected Status, terminated DACA and separated families at the border. This time, his immigration plans are even more ambitious.

If elected this November, Trump’s plans include mass deportations and detention camps, legal immigration category freezes, re-invoking public charge and penalizing states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.

At a Friday, June 14 Ethnic Media Services briefing, immigration policy experts discussed Trump’s plan — outlined in Project 25, a report from conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation — and its impact on U.S. citizens, immigrants and the economy.

Immigration policy in Project 25

Project 25 — the newest iteration of Mandate for Leadership, a series of playbooks published by The Heritage Foundation recommending conservative policies to be implemented by the federal government — includes over 175 immigration policy changes and a chapter written by Ken Cuccinelli, immigration director under President Trump.

“These policies abandon traditional conservative values like supporting business growth, decentralizing power away from the federal government and decreasing bureaucratic hurdles, often doing the opposite,” said Cecilia Esterline, immigration research analyst at the Niskanen Center. “They should be taken seriously; President Trump implemented nearly 64% of the prior Mandate for Leadership’s recommendations within the first year of his administration.”

Cecilia Esterline, Immigration Research Analyst, Niskanen Center, explains how Project 2025, a conservative plan for immigration, would use funding from the Department of Education to bully states into complying with anti-immigration policies.

“Using executive authority, without Congress, they hope to introduce processing delays,” she continued. For instance, H2A and H2B visas are seasonal visas sustaining the agricultural, construction, forestry and hospitality industries. Project 2025 argues that no updates to eligible countries should be issued, which would essentially grind the program to a halt.

The U.S. Labor Department certified 370,000 temporary H2A jobs in 2022, while the H2B cap was raised from 66,000 to 130,716 visas for 2024.

“They also create new standards cutting off intake for entire categories of immigration; for example, any deemed to have an excessive backlog,” Esterline added. “However, excessive is not defined.”

Another policy would process every approval through a secondary office that currently completes around 35,000 cases a year, rather than through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which completed 8.6 million in 2022.

Project 2025 also recommends denying Department of Education loans – based on mandatory information sharing with the federal government – to states that allow in-state tuition to “illegal aliens,” including DACA recipients.

While only citizens and green card holders are currently eligible for federal student aid, state tuition is determined according to state-defined residency terms. Currently, 26 states and the District of Columbia allow DACA recipients to qualify for in-state tuition, while 23 states and D.C. allow undocumented immigrants meeting minimum residency length to qualify.

Nearly 10.7 million U.S. students are enrolled in higher education in states allowing
in-state tuition to “illegal aliens.” Under this policy, up to 67% of all U.S. higher education students could lose access to federal aid because their state offers in-state tuition to undocumented or DACA students.

Implementing immigration policy under Trump

In addition to these proposals, most policies from the first Trump administration would be “reimplemented in some form” in a second term, said David J. Bier, director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute.

These prospective policies include the “Muslim Ban” expanded to include more non-Muslim countries like Venezuela; restricting parole sponsorship for the current 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans entering the U.S. monthly; removing the CBP One app allowing 1,500 daily legal migrations from the southwest border; and reducing the refugee program, which was capped below 10,000 under Trump’s final year — the smallest cap in history, 90% less than that under Obama and dramatically less than the over 100,000 admitted refugees projected this year under Biden.

David J. Bier, Director of Immigration Studies at Cato Institute, shares his thoughts on how a Trump presidency will impact the refugee category of immigration.

“Trump left office in 2020 with the highest number of border patrol arrests for any December, going back to 1999 … and removed more people mainly by increasing the immigrants held in detention” by a peak of about 20,000 more beds amounting to roughly 60,000 removals, said Bier.

“This time isn’t anywhere near that scale,” he continued, as Trump has campaigned on calls to detain and deport 15 to 20 million people by using the National Guard and coerce sanctuary cities into compliance by withholding federal funds.

“It’s illegal and unconstitutional,” he added. “The only question is whether there’s anyone who can stop the president, any president, from violating the Constitution in these ways.”

Political implications

“Trump’s immigration agenda presents three interrelated threats in the form of mass deportation, political violence and a threat to American democracy … where the law becomes a challenge to overcome rather than an impediment to rein in the vision,” said Zachary Mueller, senior research director for America’s Voice Education Fund.

The campaign’s calls to deport 15 million to 20 million immigrants are far above the nation’s actual undocumented population. As of 2021, there were 10.5 million undocumented U.S. immigrants — about 3% of the total population and 22% of the foreign-born population, the lowest since the 1990s.

Between 2007 and 2021, the U.S. undocumented population decreased by 1.75 million, or 14%.

“They’re not just going to go after new arrivals but also the 80% of the undocumented population who have called the U.S. home since 2010 — a second-grade teacher with DACA, a home health care aide with TPS, a farm worker keeping food in the grocery store,” said Mueller. “Nor will the havoc be contained to those who lose that legal status. One estimate has found that over 4.4 million U.S. citizen children could be affected if this plan goes into full effect.”

Zachary Mueller, Senior Research Director for America’s Voice Education Fund, discusses the promises of Trump and his allies to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients and those with temporary protected status. 

Although the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the military from enforcing regular civilian law, would also prohibit it from enforcing mass deportation, “others like Stephen Miller and Ken Cuccinelli will suggest policies to grant themselves and red state governors war powers,” he continued, “whether that be around the Insurrection Act, or asserting the white nationalist conspiracy that immigrants constitute a literal military invasion.”

As Republican campaign spending grows, so does rhetoric around an immigrant “invasion.” The word has appeared in 27 TV ads for Republican candidates totaling over $5 million, according to AdImpact.

For comparison, in 2022, the word “invasion” appeared in 22 ads totaling $3.3 million; in 2020, it appeared in four ads costing under $300,000.

“The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly warned that the language of invasion and replacement have become the mainstream of immigration talking points from Republicans this cycle,” said Mueller. “Driving this anti-democratic conspiracy is the baseless myth of a threat of non-citizen voting.”

“It’s not just about these individual policies,” Mueller added. “By laying the foundation for their supporters to believe the election was rigged, Trump and Republicans may be in lockstep — if the immigrant demagoguery fails to deliver them the electoral college victory in November — for another violent assault on our democracy … by a white nationalist vision that seeks to remake who gets to be American.”