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Immigration and Migration in the U.S.: Current Political Landscape

An introduction to U.S. immigration policy and history. Includes local resources and "know your rights" guide.

“It is one thing to say that you support immigrants, but it’s something quite different to say that you are in favor of legalizing undocumented immigrants or giving them a pathway to citizenship. There are politicians who support the Dreamers but are unwilling to offer legal support to their parents.”

– Jorge Ramos, Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era

The Obama Administration

The Obama administration initially continued a trend of rising deportations that occurred after immigration legislation passed in 1996, though these removals decreased after peaking in 2012.

“President Obama's approach to immigration enforcement is really two very different approaches: one for those caught near the border, the other for immigrants found living illegally in the interior. How long an immigrant has been here makes a difference as well. Like others before it, the Obama administration says it doesn't have the resources or the desire to deport millions of immigrants whose only crime was entering the country illegally. So, it has focused its enforcement efforts on particular targets: namely those caught near the border, those who've committed crimes and those who appear to have arrived in 2014 or later.”

In 2012, the Obama administration implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through executive action. This program offered Temporary Protected Status and work permits to undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before the age of sixteen. Attempts to expand DACA were blocked by the federal courts.  

Source: NPR

The Trump Administration

Immigration was a key talking point throughout the Trump presidency, and the Trump administration took a vocal conservative stance on the issue of immigration reform. Notably, Trump called for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, issued travel bans against several countries to bar immigration, and publicly made incendiary comments about both documented and undocumented immigrants.

“Between March 2019 and January 2020, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border ten times for week-long trips. On each trip I observed proceedings in U.S. immigration court for, or interviewed in shelters and encampments in Mexico, at least a dozen people affected by the Trump administration’s Migration Protection Protocols (or Remain in Mexico) program. In addition, during the summer and early fall of 2019, I conducted fifteen interviews with resettled refugees and others affected by the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. I found that these deterrent and exclusionary policies in no way help immigrants or refugees already in the United States or bring us together as a country.”

— Yael Schacher, "Family Separation and Lives in Limbo: U.S. Immigration Policy in the 1920s and during the Trump Administration"

The Biden Administration

Much of Biden's presidency has been spent reversing executive action taken by the Trump administration. While many of the Biden administration's policies are attempts to expand access to immigration, some Trump-era rules such as the "Remain in Mexico" policy—which requires asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border to await their U.S. court date in Mexico—remain in place due to the actions of federal courts.

Source: PEW Research Center