Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Immigration Under President Trump

By Angela Lopez

Since President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, immigration has been the center of all conversations and, with all kinds of information flying around, there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion.  We (immigration practitioners) can sift the truth out of the overwhelming volume of information that, on occasion, may lack accuracy.   For those operating outside of immigration-related professions, however, finding accurate information may be difficult.  

Five Executive Orders
The truth is this: since January 20th, President Trump has issued five Executive Orders (EO) related to immigration:

Each Executive Order (EO) addresses a specific immigration issue linked together by one common denominator:  enforcement of immigration laws. For instance, the EO Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, gives U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the authority to “carry out a number of actions to implement the enforcement priorities stated in the executive order. Some of those actions include, but are not limited to, conducting targeted enforcement operations and allocating resources to work in jurisdictions with violent crime tied to gang activities.” (HHS Q&A: A2, February 21, 2017). The EO Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement establishes the “[p]resident's policy regarding effective border security and immigration enforcement through faithful execution of the laws of the United States.” (Implementing the President's Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies, Memorandum, February 20, 2017).  The EO Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States seeks to “provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with additional resources, tools, and personnel to carry out the critical work of securing our borders, enforcing the immigration laws of our Nation, and ensuring that individuals from certain designated countries who pose a threat to national security or public safety cannot enter or remain in our country.  Protecting the American people is the highest priority of our government and this [d]epartment.” (HHS Fact sheet, March 6, 2017). The EO Buy American and Hire American, aims to protect U.S. workers and their economic interests by enforcing and implementing our immigration laws.

The immigration laws that these executive orders seek to enforce are the same laws that were in effect before President Trump took office. In fact, the most recent major immigration reform enacted in the United States, was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which made it illegal to hire or recruit immigrants without legal status or authorization to work in the U.S.

So, what has changed?   

Priorities have changed. Under President Trump, focus has shifted from specific, pointed efforts to a larger, more comprehensive approach, and enforcement officers now have broader discretionary authority.

The implementation of the Executive Orders has been chaotic. The lack of organization and resources on the part of the Administration has led to an unorganized and disruptive enforcement effort harming, in some instances, those whom the Executive Orders seek to protect:  U.S. citizens.  In the long term, it is unclear whether the enforcement priorities will improve our immigration system.  Our hope is that Congress takes this opportunity to pass a comprehensive immigration reform ending the era of unorganized immigration law enforcement through Executive Orders.  


Currently, there is legislation pending in Congress to reform our immigration system called the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act).  The RAISE Act is a bill that was introduced to the United States Senate on February 13, 2017. Co-sponsored by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, the bill seeks to reduce levels of legal immigration to the United States by 50%.  It is unlikely that Congress will pass this bill, but it will serve to at least start the conversation.


Angela M. Lopez is a shareholder with Cowles and Thompson, where she leads the Immigration section.  Her practice represents numerous foreign nationals and their employers successfully overcoming the challenges of the U.S. immigration system.

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