Yesterday Trump announced an immigration plan that was broadly focused on two themes: Border security and reform of our visa system. Video and transcript available here.
On border security, Trump’s plan calls for the construction of more wall along sections of the border. He is also calling for technological improvements at ports of entry that will allow scanning of all vehicles. A border security trust fund, would be created from fees assigned at the border, to cover the costs of these changes.
Trump also repeated his claims about abuse of the asylum process by those with “meritless claims.” However, there was little of substance on asylum proceedings. As we noted yesterday, Lindsey Graham has offered legislation that would gut the asylum process. We can only assume that some of these measures would be attached to any comprehensive reform effort. Indeed, Trump encouraged passage to Graham’s “reforms” during his speech.
On the visa system Trump was more specific on goals, less specific on means.
The reforms are touted as focused on creating a “merit-based” system that would replace current preferences given to family members of U.S citizens and permanent residents. From NBC News:
The White House estimates 12 percent of people who obtain green cards and citizenship do so based on “employment and skill,” while 66 percent enter via family-based connections and 22 percent through humanitarian visas and the diversity lottery. Under the new proposal, employment and skill would increase to 57 percent, 33 percent for family-based and 10 percent for everything else.
The merit-based system proposal is centered around what would be called the “Build America” visa. It recognizes three categories: extraordinary talent, professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students.
The plan, as announced, would be a significant overhaul of the system, one that would impact millions of people currently waiting for visas around the world. Stuart Anderson, writing for Forbes, explains:
Under the proposal, more than 4 million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs would have their immigration applications eliminated, even if they have been waiting in line for years to immigrate.
“Immigrants in the green card backlog would lose their place in line and would need to apply under the new point-based system,” according to an analysis from Berry Appleman & Leiden. “The White House has said people who are currently waiting for green cards will receive additional points, but no specifics have been released.” This was confirmed by Donald Trump’s May 16, 2019, speech, in which he stated that all current family and employment-based preference categories would be eliminated and replaced by new “Build America” visas awarded by points.
Anderson concludes: The most common argument made against helping Dreamers and others without legal status is that we should welcome immigrants to America who have waited patiently to immigrate and have “played by the rules.” The irony is that over 4 million people who have waited patiently in immigration backlogs and played by the rules have just been told they have wasted their time.
Part of the plan outlined by Trump would include a civics test that must be passed prior to receiving a visa. Some reflection on this:
“This test is at best unnecessary and could screen out some very skilled, ambitious immigrants who are ready to be productive in America, whatever the test says,” said Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and co-director of its Trade and Immigration Project.
“It could be a barrier to very productive immigrants becoming a part of American society,” he said.
Griswold and others said that while the details of Trump’s proposal remain unclear, they have never heard of such a requirement at that level in the immigration process. Such exams are usually part of citizenship tests, they said.
“It’s like asking for people to apply for citizenship when they arrive,” said Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. “It’s a big thing to ask of people from other parts of the world.”
[Note: It might be interesting to require members of Congress to take the test before voting on any legislation related to immigration.
Trump’s plan did not directly address issues impacting people already living in the United States: No mention of a legislative solution for people currently protected from removal proceedings under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or Temporary Protected Status. As is, Trump’s efforts to end these programs is tied up in federal courts.
The Trump plan will be presented to Congress at some point. Once it has been translated into legislative language that references the specific changes to current law necessary to implement these proposals, we will have a better sense of what is at stake. Currently, Trump seems to be mostly testing the waters and his re-election campaign talking points. However, these reforms would have a dramatic long-term impact on our visa system, so we must take them seriously.
Most Haitians, whether in Haiti or abroad, experience a form of statelessness. This refers to the condition of not being considered a national by any State under its laws. Jus soli Haitians living in Haiti are citizens by birth. Their statelessness, however, speaks to the nature of their existence in the world as they are not afforded the rights and protections that come with being a citizen inside or outside of Haiti.
Citizenship is a legal concept denoting ‘in-ness’ and ‘out-ness.’ It serves as a framework for the social contract that exists between a government and its constituents. This contract suggests a mutual obligation between the state and its citizens: the state provides the security of law, and in exchange citizens provide support to the state, materially in the form of taxes, or less directly, allegiance to, or participation in, the process of governing. The state of Haiti exists, but lacks capacity to deliver basic services to its citizens. And because the state is unable to fulfill the basic functions, third parties step in to do the job (NGOs, philanthropists, etc.). This has created a cycle, whereby the state’s weakness becomes the entree for non-governmental organizations, whose very presence acts to further weaken the state’s capacity. Which is to say, Haitians, even within Haiti, are living a stateless existence.
Haitians are leaving this situation of de facto statelessness in Haiti. But when they do, they become “othered” elsewhere – i.e., in but not of the community – physically present but not deserving of legal status. Which is to say, when people do leave Haiti, they are met with inexplicable contempt that reeks of anti-blackness and classism.
Traditionally, Haitians have migrated in large number to the Dominican Republic, the United States, neighboring Caribbean islands, and Canada. A number of Haitians have recently sought refuge in Chile, where nearly 150,000 Haitians (a little over 1% of the country’s population) have migrated in the last two years alone. Chile has become a promising destination (or really just an alternative) for thousands of Haitians seeking work in Chile’s growing economy. Concerned, the Chilean government has returned hundreds of Haitians to Haiti on what it refers to as “humanitarian flights” in recent months. This forced deportation has been described by the Chilean government as “voluntary” even though it requires that Haitians leaving Chile sign a declaration saying they won’t return for nine years and must take any immediate family back with them.
Haitians do not pose a threat to Chile.
Yet they have been shipped back to where they came from by the boatloads for the sole purpose of cutting migrant numbers. It appears that no matter how willing Haitians are to work or even to renounce their citizenship, they remain unwelcomed.
Since the Trump administration’s announcement to end temporary protected status for Haitians back in 2017, much fear and anxiety have ensued. Haiti has yet to recover from several natural disasters, incidents of international theft, and indemnity. TPS recipients living in the United States do not necessarily have homes in Haiti, let alone family. And even if they do, 25% of Haiti’s GDP stems from the Haitian diaspora sending money back home. This decision would take an even worse toll on the Haitian people who rely on their family members living in the U.S. for support.
In March of this year, House Democrats proposed the Dream and Promise Act, which would allow for over 2.5 million people living in the U.S. (through DACA, TPS, etc.) to apply for legal status which could place them on the path to permanent citizenship. While this news is exciting for Haitian TPS recipients who feared deportation, it doesn’t guarantee that they will remain in the United States. For one thing, the bill is not likely to pass in the current environment.
What says the Haitian Constitution of the government’s duty to the Haitian people? What makes someone a citizen of Haiti other than having been born on Haitian soil and a legal document to prove (if even they are able to gain access to this)? Have we lost faith in the democratic process? Or have we lost faith in the Haitian government; did we ever have faith in the Haitian government – let alone imagine that they were capable of governing? It is still the job of the Haitian government to maintain a system of checks and balances, so that development NGOs don’t have the option of trading aid for sex with teenage girls? It is still the job of the Haitian government to maintain a sanitation system so that the Haitian people don’t have to burn their trash in the streets, releasing pathogens into the air and further spreading disease-causing bacteria?
It is fair to argue that when a government ceases to invest in its citizens and ceases to maintain security for its citizens, especially from harm done by foreigners, those citizens are not citizens. They become people moving from one place to another in search of the protections that governments are supposed to provide.
Obviously, the role of the U.S. government and outside aid organizations crippling Haiti’s economy and state building capacity has to be explored. While the exploitative practices that have plagued Haiti for generations persist, it is no longer enough to say that they are the primary reason why the Haitian government has not been able to carry out the most basic functions of the state.
Isabella Louis is a recent graduate of Goucher College. She majored in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies with a focus on Africana Studies. Louis identifies as a Haitian-American, first-generation, black feminist. In her free time, Louis enjoys reading and writing on the Haitian state, singing, dancing, and spending time with family and friends.
Trump is scheduled to give a speech today in which he will unveil details of a plan on immigration crafted by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Administration officials have already released some information on the plan, which does not address the situation of undocumented immigrants within the United States at all. Rather it is a mix of border security proposals and introducing new formulas for legal entry. A summary from NPR
The plan, as described by the administration official, would prioritize merit-based immigration, limiting the number of people who could get green cards by seeking asylum or based on family ties. But it would keep immigration levels static, neither increasing or decreasing the number of people allowed to legally enter the US each year. Here are the elements of the proposal as described to reporters:
The plan does not include any provision for Dreamers, young people brought into the country as children, who currently have protection from deportation proceedings and can get work permits – provided they register with DHS. Trump has tried to end the Obama program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that provides these protections. The future of DACA is currently tied up in court actions. Creating a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers has been a primary concern of Democrats. They have been working on a bill in the House, but that is tied up in disagreements over qualifications for protection.
Trump’s plan seems geared toward securing Republican support around this particular set of ideas, and may be best read as an election strategy more than a legislative proposal. Because Trump’s plan does not reduce legal immigration levels, it is already facing criticism from the hardliners. Absent some proposal to extend DACA through legislation, the Democrats won’t join on board. So, in its current form, the plan is not likely to go far.
If interested in watching Trump’s address in the Rose Garden today, it can be viewed here at 2:30 EST.
…has introduced legislation to revamp the asylum process. From CNN:
The legislation would change the system in three substantial ways: It would require migrants seeking asylum to apply at a consulate or embassy in their home country or in Mexico, instead of at the southern border; it would increase the amount of time that migrant children could stay in custody from 20 days to 100 days; and make it easier for officials to deport unaccompanied minors to Central America.
The measure also calls for 500 new immigration judges to chip away at the massive immigration court backlog.
There are a lot of problems with this plans. First, it is worth noting that the Trump administration ended a program set up by the Obama administration to allow people to apply for asylum at embassies in Central America last year. The program was not very effective in the sense that it took a very long time to process claims, but it did offer a way for people to seek asylum before making the trip to the United States border. Increasing the amount of time that children can be held to 100 days is an end around the Flores Settlement Agreement and won’t work. The administration is already trying to establish new rules to get around the 20 day limit – these will be reviewed by the judge responsible for administering the Flores Settlement, and is not likely to be approved. Adding new immigration judges is not an inherently bad idea – but immigration judges operate under the Department of Justice, not the Federal Courts, and thus the Attorney General will oversee this process with little oversight. That is not good news for immigrants.
Graham’s bill is not likely to go far. But provisions could get bundled with other elements of Trump’s plan if that plan ever makes into actual legislation. For now though, immigration remains the vehicle for political grandstanding. Workable solutions seem a distant prospect.