In taking on the ‘America First’ policy in his 2016 presidential election campaign, Donald Trump made clear his intention to put the interests of the USA above all others. In the four years since his election, Trump is keeping true to his word. The administration is largely unmoved on – and uninterested in – global conflicts and collaborations. But it isn’t only abroad that this nationalist theme is having an impact. US immigration policy-making is also being shaped by this thinking.
From the outset of his campaign, one of Trump’s flagship immigration policies was to construct a wall along the US border with Mexico. But there are other policies in this area that have been introduced. Some may not necessarily receive the oxygen of publicity as “the Wall”. But all are having an impact. From people arriving at the border to those already living in the US, changes in policy are affecting thousands of lives – and immigration lawyers are struggling to keep up.
A tougher stance on legal immigration applicant numbers
It is tempting to think that the Trump administration is targeting illegal immigration in order to protect American interests. But the truth is that legal immigration is also under the spotlight of the President. The US is now vetting Green Card and non-immigrant visa applicants – placing a focus on whether that individual will require public benefits. Elsewhere, the application process is harder too – with the US expanding the need for face-to-face interviews.
As such, the number of immigrant visa approvals came down from 617,752 in 2016 to 462,422 in 2019. In April 2020, the administration stopped immigration for certain groups of people for a short time due to a “risk to the US labour market” during the post-Covid economic recovery.
Imposing travel bans on immigrants from certain nations
In 2017, the Trump administration introduced travel restrictions on a group of countries where the Muslim population is in the majority. After an initial wave of publicity, that ban is still to be lifted. In fact, the number of affected nations increased from seven to 13 in January 2020. One of the latest additions is Nigeria, which is one of the most heavily-populated countries in Africa.
Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program
President Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. It recognises – and attempts to reconciliate – the fact that some younger immigrants had been raised in the US after their parents unlawfully brought them into the country. For people under the age of 31 who are eligible for DACA, it offered the chance of a work permit and a two-year deferral of deportation. But, like other Obama policies, it was quickly a target of Trump reform.
Efforts to end DACA have faced strong legal challenges. Both the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court have ruled that ending it is “unjustified”. DACA’s future and the futures of those it applies to, however, remain uncertain.
The impact of new – and altered – US immigration policies
With the changes made by the Trump administration to US immigration policies, the impact is – first and foremost – felt by the people it affects. From younger immigrants eligible for the DACA to those escaping conflict and hardship around in the world, millions of people turn to the US to provide safe refuge and economic opportunity. The obstacles to this, however, are growing.
On top of the very real human cost, there are other areas in which policy decisions are having a notable impact. The Cato Institute, for example, says the US government stands to lose $60 bn in revenues if DACA is repealed over a 10-year period. The impact on the economy, meanwhile, could be worth up to $215 bn in lost GDP.
Such figures highlight the economic impact of just one immigration policy decision taken by the Trump administration. When applied to other policies too, that economic impact becomes much more pronounced. Of course, there are coherent arguments to be made for that tougher line on immigration. But, in the interests of putting America First, the blanket imposition of restrictions and deportations could prove counter-productive and undermine the ultimate objectives.