BIDEN vs.TRUMP. How They Differ on Immigration Policy

Originally published Oct 4, 2020

The coming Presidential election will be critical to the path of immigration policy in America. There are vast differences between Donald Trump and his opponent, Joe Biden, on the subject of immigration, and the stakes could not be higher for immigrants and those who care about them.

Below I summarize the positions of each candidate on key immigration policies, as stated in their public statements and campaign pronouncements. Much of this is underscored by the substantial differences in immigration policy under the Obama-Biden and Trump Administrations.

Trump is committed to continue  constructing the border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. ( Shutterstock )
Trump is committed to continue constructing the border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. ( Shutterstock )

Donald Trump’s website states the following: “To restore the rule of law and secure our border, President Trump is committed to constructing a border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. To protect American workers, the President supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system. These reforms will advance the safety and prosperity of all Americans while helping new citizens assimilate and flourish.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration

True to his promises during the 2016 campaign, Trump has implemented a comprehensive agenda to reduce legal and undocumented immigration over the last four years. This has included fighting for funding for his “wall” (really, increased barriers) on the Mexican border; a policy barring immigration from many Muslim countries; and severe restrictions on asylum and refugee status.

Students rally to defend DACA in Los Angeles in 2017. ( Molly Adams -  Wikimedia - Attribution 2.0 Generic-CC BY 2.0 )
Students rally to defend DACA in Los Angeles in 2017. ( Molly Adams - Wikimedia - Attribution 2.0 Generic-CC BY 2.0 )

He has tried and largely succeeded in scaling back any forms of amnesty for undocumented immigrants such as DACA, DAPA and temporary protected status (TPS) for Central Americans. As an immigration lawyer practicing 30 years, during six administrations, I can tell you this administration has been the most restrictive and punitive toward immigrants during those three decades.

Based upon his statements and those of his campaign, Joe Biden would reverse much of that. His website says: “Joe Biden understands the pain felt by every family across the U.S. that has had a loved one removed from the country, including under the Obama-Biden Administration, and he believes we must do better to uphold our laws humanely and preserve the dignity of immigrant families, refugees, and asylum-seekers.” https://joebiden.com/immigration/#

Let’s look at some specifics in how the two candidates differ:

Deportation Policy

It is often cited that the more immigrants were deported by the Obama Administration than under Trump. But that is primarily a reflection of the extent of cooperation of local law enforcement with ICE under each President. In the Obama years, a program known as Secure Communities, started just before he took office, led to large numbers of deportations; local police and sheriffs were channeling immigrants to ICE and deportation, a practice Barack Obama did not put a stop to until after his first term. Later, following Donald Trump’s vow to deport “2-3 million immigrants”, states and localities across the country passed so-called sanctuary laws that denied the Trump Administration similar cooperation, and deportations dropped significantly.

With unprecedented access to ICE operations, as well as moving portraits of immigrants, this docuseries takes a deep look at US immigration today. It shows how ICE "hunts“ down workers to deport them and tear families apart.

In fact, Trump has deported a wider range of undocumented immigrants, including those with clean records and children born in the U.S., whereas Obama prioritized serious criminals. Early on, the Department of Homeland Security under Trump took the position that it would not give a pass to anyone who was undocumented, and Obama’s policies of “prosecutorial discretion” toward non-criminal immigrants were eliminated.

Joe Biden has called for a moratorium on deportations. His joint task force on immigration specifically mentions reforming and depoliticizing ICE and the immigration courts and passing immigration reform.

Biden’s joint task force on immigration recommendations:

UNITY-TASK-FORCE-RECOMMENDATIONS.pdf

As Vice President, Joe Biden championed the creation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which gives temporary status to undocumented immigrants with children born here. ( Shutterstock)
As Vice President, Joe Biden championed the creation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which gives temporary status to undocumented immigrants with children born here. ( Shutterstock)

DACA and DAPA

In 2012, the Obama-Biden administration created DACA, the program that gave 750,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation. In 2017, in his first year in office, Donald Trump announced the termination of DACA. Although the courts later forced the Trump Administration to continue DACA for those who already have it, the Administration has so far refused to accept new applications, essentially preventing another 300,000 young people from getting status. Joe Biden has called for a path to citizenship for DACA-recipients through passage of the DREAM Act. https://joebiden.com/immigration/#. As his website states, “as Vice President, Joe Biden championed the creation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program”, which would have given temporary status to undocumented immigrants with children born here. That program was blocked by a lawsuit filed by Republican governors. Donald Trump eliminated DAPA program before it could be implemented and 5 million undocumented immigrants were left in the shadows.

Naturalization and Permanent Residence Processing

During the Trump Administration, we have seen growing delays in the processing of citizenship and residence applications, doubling or tripling waiting periods for immigration benefits that existed during the Obama-Biden years.

Maria was 5 when she arrived in the United States on the Fourth of July 18 years ago, and she thought the fireworks over Portland were a celebration of her arrival. The Southern Oregon University business major observed Independence Day as a newly-minted U.S. citizen in 2019, closing the loop on a long cycle of immigration roadblocks and limited opportunities for her family and herself.(sou.edu)
Maria was 5 when she arrived in the United States on the Fourth of July 18 years ago, and she thought the fireworks over Portland were a celebration of her arrival. The Southern Oregon University business major observed Independence Day as a newly-minted U.S. citizen in 2019, closing the loop on a long cycle of immigration roadblocks and limited opportunities for her family and herself.(sou.edu)

Joe Biden promises to change this: “It is long past time to provide a roadmap to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers who are an essential part of our economy and of the fabric of our nation. We will fast-track this process for those workers who have been essential to the pandemic response and recovery efforts, including health care workers, farmworkers, and others. We will also eliminate unfair barriers to naturalization, reduce application backlogs, and make our immigration processes faster, more efficient, and less costly.”

Biden’s joint task force on immigration recommendations:

UNITY-TASK-FORCE-RECOMMENDATIONS.pdf

Donald Trump has pushed through new so-called “public charge” regulations which greatly restrict legal immigration based on what amounts to a means test. The Biden Task Force on Immigration promised to “immediately halt enforcement of and rescind the Trump Administration’s un-American immigrant wealth test.”

Violence Against Women Act.

Joe Biden was responsible for introducing and leading the support for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes immigration relief for undocumented victims of domestic violence and other crimes. He held moving hearings with testimony from D.V. victims that led to the law’s passage in 1994. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_Against_Women_Act

Vice President Joe Biden – the Act's primary sponsor when a Senator – at the National Archives in 2014 honoring the Act's 20th anniversary. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89558472
Vice President Joe Biden – the Act's primary sponsor when a Senator – at the National Archives in 2014 honoring the Act's 20th anniversary. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89558472

Policies implemented by the Trump Administration have made it more difficult for such victims of crime to obtain U visas provided by law. Moreover, the waiting periods for domestic violence and other crime victims applying for U visa have grown from 15 months to 5 years since 2015. The Biden website promises to fix that by increasing the cap on such visas. https://joebiden.com/immigration/

Asylum Policy

Perhaps the starkest difference between Trump and Obama/Biden has been with respect to asylum policy. Trump has implemented a broad-based set of restrictive laws and policies toward asylum applicants including:

• blocking many individuals from eligibility for asylum by changing policies to exclude victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence or gang violence abroad;

• forcing asylum applicants to wait long periods in Customs & Border Protection camps at the U.S. border or in Mexico; during the last six months, the Administration has simply closed the border to asylum applicants completely, citing the COVID crisis.

• Using the Department of Justice to restructure the immigration law bench by appointing predominantly former ICE officials as judges, and expediting deportation proceedings for asylum applicants.

Trump has implemented  a policy of forcing asylum applicants to wait long periods in Customs & Border Protection camps at the U.S. border or in Mexico.(Shutterstock)
Trump has implemented a policy of forcing asylum applicants to wait long periods in Customs & Border Protection camps at the U.S. border or in Mexico.(Shutterstock)

If he becomes President, Biden has promised to reverse much of this, including a promise to “support steps to make immigration courts more independent.” https://joebiden.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/UNITY-TASK-FORCE-RECOMMENDATIONS.pdf

Conclusion

The differences between Trump and Biden on immigration policy—as with many other issues—could hardly be more defined and profound. Anyone who cares about immigration policy has a clear choice in these two candidates: support the very restrictive policies of the last four years or return to a more open, tolerant immigration agenda as we had in the eight years before.

In my daily work, I’ve seen how so many immigrants sacrifice so much to become U.S. citizens. Don’t take your citizenship or your democracy for granted. If you are a U.S. citizen, make sure you vote!

Christopher Kerosky
Christopher Kerosky

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