Plenty of Americans who voted for Donald Trump last November were enthralled by the billionaire candidate’s promises to build a border wall, deport illegal aliens, defund sanctuary cities, suspend immigration from terror-prone countries and reform legal immigration to serve the interests of American workers.
Six months into his presidency, Trump’s record on immigration has been a mixed bag, according to Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Krikorian sees plenty to like: The administration has pushed forward on funding for a wall, and it has loosened restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents, allowing them to do their jobs more effectively. Trump also established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office within ICE to support those who have been victimized by criminal illegal aliens.
But the one major disappointment, in Krikorian’s view, has been the continued existence of DACA, the Obama-era policy that shielded from deportation certain illegal aliens who had come to the U.S. as children. DACA recipients get a renewable two-year period of deferred action and are eligible for a work permit.
“The president, when he was campaigning, repeatedly said on Day One he’d get rid of it,” Krikorian noted during an interview.
“Well, Day One came and went and it’s still there, and six months have come and gone and it’s still there.”
Krikorian acknowledged it would be politically costly to end DACA; close to 800,000 immigrants who already have work permits would not be able to renew them after their two-year period ended, leading to an avalanche of sob stories. However, he said that does not excuse the Trump administration for continuing to issue new permits.
“The real disappointment to me, the greatest disappointment, is that they are continuing to give out new work permits to illegal immigrants who didn’t have them before, not just renew the ones that Obama initiated,” Krikorian seethed.
“I understand their reluctance to stop renewals altogether, but to continue to issue new work permits – by my calculations, close to 200 a day – to illegal immigrants who did not have them before is inexcusable. They literally just have no idea what they’re going to do about DACA.”
Aside from DACA, Krikorian thinks it was a mistake for Trump to fold refugee resettlement into his infamous “travel ban.”
“What that means is we have not been able to rein in refugee resettlement in a way that the president had the authority to do,” he clarified.
However, Krikorian views that not as a betrayal, but a stumble. He doesn’t think the administration thought through the consequences of the ban, and he thinks they failed to anticipate the courts would halt an action that was “plainly and explicitly permitted by the law.”
Furthermore, Krikorian is concerned by the lack of a significant uptick in worksite enforcement.
“Turning off the jobs magnet that draws illegals here in the first place is at least as important, if not more important, than border enforcement,” the immigration expert declared.
On a positive note, he pointed out border apprehensions dropped significantly in the two months after Trump took office, at a time of year when attempted illegal crossings typically go up.
“We saw a huge drop in illegal immigration and early in this year, January and February, is precisely when the numbers should have been going up, and they have been going up in all previous years, so that was a clear indication that there was a Trump effect, that a lot of illegals were holding off,” Krikorian said.
However, he noted border apprehensions have begun to creep up again in the past two months. The numbers are still lower than in previous years, but Krikorian said it serves as a reminder that rhetoric alone won’t secure the border – real enforcement measures are needed.
“It should be a warning for us that you can’t just bluster your way into a tighter border; you have to actually follow through on the bluster,” he said.
On the legal immigration front, Krikorian does not believe Trump is as skeptical as he needs to be. He pointed to a recent interview in The Economist in which Trump was asked whether he wanted to cut the number of legal immigrants entering the country. The answer was a clear “No.” Therefore, Krikorian does not put Trump in the same legal immigration skeptic category as his advisors Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller or his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Frankly, President Trump is not a restrictionist, but he’s also not on the other side necessarily,” the CIS executive director said.
“He’s not a Chuck Schumer type who wants to double legal immigration. I think he could go either way.”
Krikorian is heartened by the fact the Trump administration is working with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., on a bill that would restrict legal immigration. The so-called RAISE Act, which the senators introduced in February, would cut back on chain migration, eliminate the international diversity visa lottery and limit the annual number of refugees admitted. The bill’s primary goal is to move America away from a family-based immigration system and towards a system which admits immigrants based on the skills and contributions they could bring to the country.
Krikorian believes this bill could reduce legal immigration by 30, 40 or even as much as 50 percent.
“That’s a very important initiative, and the president has really committed to it, and that’s an important sign,” Krikorian said. “I mean, there’s no way it would have passed in six months, so I’m not too worried about the fact that it hasn’t reached his desk.
It may not even reach his desk this year, but that is an important plus in assessing this administration’s performance.”
All in all, Krikorian gives President Trump a “B” grade for his handling of immigration thus far. He credits the president with keeping most of his campaign promises, with the huge exception of DACA. Besides that major disappointment, Krikorian sees a couple of mistakes, but lots of positive movement.
The longtime immigration expert thinks those who voted for Trump based on immigration can still trust the president as much as they can trust any politician. But he thinks it will be much easier to trust the administration to stay on the right path if Jeff Sessions remains in the administration.
“If he is forced out, then I think you can expect a drift in the wrong direction,” Krikorian predicted.
“Not an immediate reversal of everything and a betrayal of every promise; that’s not likely to happen, but if Sessions is not there, when issues come up, the likelihood that the administration will drift in the wrong direction, toward the left, increases.”
Without Sessions, Krikorian fears “liberal Democrats” like Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Gary Cohn will exercise greater influence over immigration policy. But at the moment, Sessions remains in place and immigration restrictionists have hope for the Trump administration.
“Generally speaking, if you’re an immigration voter and you voted for Trump, things are looking reasonably good, especially if the attorney general stays where he is,” Krikorian said.
“But eternal vigilance is always called for because the president isn’t really a restrictionist and will need to consistent, friendly but firm pressure to stay the course.”