In the road map for immigration reform President-elect Donald Trump has laid out, the United States will shift focus to address concerns of American citizens worried about jobs, wages and tax bills, emphasizing deportations and curtailing programs that allow immigrants to enter and stay in the country.
Trump vows to seal the southern border to illegal immigration by erecting “an impenetrable physical wall” funded by federal dollars, which he says Mexico will reimburse. The issue is at the top of Trump’s agenda.
But supporters and critics say they expect the biggest impact of Trump’s immigration plans will be the kicking of enforcement mechanisms into high gear.
Trump has promised to target for deportation more than 2 million immigrants with criminal records.
He’s made clear he would expand efforts to detain and remove those released under Obama Adminstration policiesthat allowed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to use prosecutorial discretion in deciding which immigrants to pursue.
Obama focused on removing those considered threats to national and border security or public safety, as well as others with serious criminal offenses or deportation orders.
Trump has indicated he will revisit an Obama program created by executive action, which provides some 750,000 young immigrants, known as Dreamers, work permits and protection from deportation. About 14,000 of those immigrants, brought to the United States illegally as children, were eligible on Long Island, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that studies international migration. It’s unclear how many obtained the protection.
“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation — that is what it means to have laws and to have a country,” Trump said during an immigration address in August.
“Our enforcement priorities will include removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges . . . along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays” from the Obama years, Trump said.
There are as many as 99,000 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and 11 million nationwide, who are in the United States illegally, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute.
Despite the possibility of widespread impact, experts, elected officials and immigrant advocates say they’re unsure of what to expect from Trump, as he’s offered few specific proposals.
Trump has issued contradictory or unclear statements about how he expects to achieve key campaign promises, including getting Mexico to pay for the wall and how he will handle the Dreamers issue. He tweeted that Mexico will “pay a little later” for the wall, even if taxpayers have to fund it first. On Dreamers, he told Time Magazine last month that he’s “going to to work something out” even as he aims to undo Obama’s executive action.
Some proposals may require congressional approval, where consensus has been difficult to build on immigration.
Republicans in Congress reportedly are working with Trump on a solution for Dreamers, now protected from deportation under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Many have argued that those brought to the United States illegally as children shouldn’t be penalized for adults’ decisions.
Asked about Trump’s campaign promise to unleash a “deportation force” to remove millions in the United States illegally, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a recent CNN Town Hall, “I’m here to tell you in Congress it’s not happening.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Democrats’ Senate minority leader, also has signaled opposition ahead if Trump makes proposals that Democrats view as extreme.
Schumer said in a statement to Newsday that he favors broader immigration reform rather than building a wall and pushing enforcement-only measures. Schumer was a key sponsor of a 2013 bipartisan bill that passed the Senate but stalled in the House, and which would have combined stronger enforcement with an earned legalization program.
“The bottom line is that the only way to fix our broken immigration system and secure our borders is to implement the bipartisan comprehensive immigration plan we passed,” Schumer stated. “The extreme approach to deport first, ask questions later, just won’t work.”
Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Proponents of strict enforcement see in Trump a historic opportunity to further that agenda.
“It’s a vindication for those who always believed . . . that we should be enforcing the law,” said Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, of Washington-D. C., which advocates for strict enforcement and whose analyses have been cited by Trump.
Camarota said he thinks Trump will “try to reorient the enforcement efforts more broadly” by undoing Obama’s policies.
“The overall strategy is likely to be enforcement first and then come back to Congress to get some things that he wants legislatively” to stem future flows and make it harder for those here illegally to get jobs, Camarota said. “The goal has got to be to encourage people to return home, take the pressure off public schools and taxpayers.”
Many immigrants are worried after the presidential campaign.
Sandy Rodríguez, 27, a Brentwood truck driver whose parents had him brought illegally from El Salvador when he was 10, benefited from Obama’s 2012 executive action granting Dreamers a chance to stay in the United States. He was able to get a work permit and obtain a commercial driver’s license. He went from low-wage kitchen jobs to driving an eighteen-wheeler and delivering food and supplies to restaurants for a living.
Rodríguez said he is putting money away in case he ends up deported to El Salvador, a country he really doesn’t know.
“I have been a good person and I have contributed to this country and I haven’t come to steal or do any harm,” Rodríguez said in Spanish. “I woke up the morning he [Trump] won . . . and I couldn’t believe it. I have a lot of esteem for this country and I felt totally disappointed.”
Among the issues of most concern to immigrants on Long Island is the Dreamers program and temporary protected status for people from war- and disaster-torn nations, including El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center, an advocacy group in Hempstead and Brentwood.
If those programs are canceled or are allowed to expire, many more immigrants could lose their permits and become illegal, and dependent on the underground economy.
“They are working and often they have been at the same jobs for 10 years or more,” Young said. “We don’t want people to be pushed underground who have been living here for years.”
The Center for American Progress, a policy a Washington, D.C., think tank that promotes economic mobility, said New York State’s gross domestic product could drop by $2.3 billion a year if Dreamers lose deportation protections and withdraw from the legal labor market. The center estimated the national GDP loss at a total of $433.4 billion over a decade.
“It would have a tremendous impact on large states,” said Tom Jawetz, the center’s vice president of immigration policy.
Immigration enforcement proponents say that even if increased deportations have temporary negative effects, American workers and legal immigrants would fill the void in affected industries and communities.
“Over time, the immigration laws will do what they are meant to do, which will be to protect the jobs and the security of the American public,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that calls for reduced immigration and stricter enforcement.
Barrett Psareas, an enforcement proponent who is vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association in Cedarhurst, said many citizens would be willing to deal with the transition away from a local economy that relies on undocumented labor.
“It may hurt the economy at first, but once legal citizens or immigrants start taking jobs taken by those deported . . . and tax dollars are flowing back into the economy everything will start coming back nice and slowly,” Psareas said.
Deportation of immigrants with criminal records
Trump could make changes in this area quickly, by having immigration agencies revise enforcement priorities, revisiting cooperation programs with jails in counties and cities and pressuring “sanctuary cities” that haven’t been honoring detention requests.
Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” he wants to “get the people that are criminal and have criminal records” out of the country, and that his goal is 2 million to 3 million such deportations.
Experts say that would require going beyond finding those here illegally. The enforcement apparatus would have to target “green-card holders and other legally-present noncitizens” with criminal records because there aren’t enough unauthorized immigrants who’ve committed crimes to meet that quota, said Migration Policy Institute spokeswoman Michelle Mittelstadt.
Immigrant advocates say a blanket policy based solely on criminal records would not distinguish between hardened criminals and immigrants with old criminal cases who are doing their best to better their lives.
Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of the Brooklyn-based group Make The Road New York, which also advocates for immigrants on Long Island, said Trump “has tried to scapegoat immigrants as criminals and rapists since the first day of his campaign.”
However, David Sperling, an immigration attorney with offices in Huntington Station and elsewhere on Long Island, said the Trump administration will have to work within the framework of the law, which will limit the administration’s actions.
“I don’t expect a radical change when Trump takes over,” Sperling said. “He will, no question about it, expand the dragnet” for deportations of those with criminal records “But the fact is there are procedural safeguards and Trump cannot simply by waving his wand change all of that.”
With The Associated Press