Less than six hours ago, Donald Trump became our President-Elect. I don’t know what the future holds for us as a country, let alone for specific immigration policy or reform, but I do know that a lot of people are scared. Let me share my initial thoughts on what this means, knowing that so much can change over the next few weeks or months.
As we’ve talked about before, presidents do not make the law. Congress does that. Yes, right now, it looks like the Republicans will maintain control of Congress, but they don’t have the majority they need to pass legislation through without compromise. President Trump will not have the authority, nor will Congress, to have any law they want to be enacted without the Democrats agreeing to it. Our system of checks and balances is still in place.
What President Trump can do is change policy. Just as President Obama created DACA, which is about how we prioritize enforcement policies, President Trump can take it away. In fact, Donald Trump has said that he would cancel the DACA program once in office, so we will see if he keeps to his word. I don’t know if he will, but if I had DACA, I know that I wouldn’t wait until after January 20, 2017, to renew it.
President Trump will also name people to positions who can influence the policy that will impact immigrants’ lives. While immigration was a hot topic for Donald Trump, I don’t believe he will be involved in the legal analysis of the laws – I think he will want to be more involved in projects that he knows about, like rebuilding our roads and bridges. We will learn a lot about what the Trump Presidency will look like by who he appoints to his Cabinet and to other key positions.
The state of immigration enforcement – how will that look like under President Trump? He has come to terms with the reality that over 11 million undocumented people cannot be deported. But I do think enforcement priorities will change dramatically. Under President Obama, ICE was supposed to limit itself to focus on people who had arrived in the country recently, to criminals, and to those with prior removal orders.
Under President Trump, I don’t think that ICE will be allowed to exercise discretion like they have been to release parents of U.S. citizen children, people who have been in the U.S. for decades, or people who have perhaps been victims of crimes themselves. Immigrants caught now in deportation proceedings will perhaps be seen with one label – “illegal.” This is the area that scares people the most – rightfully so – but we still have due process, the right to see an immigration judge, and there are still laws to protect you. There are also thousands of advocates out there who are ready to fight for you.
In some ways, I wonder if President Trump can bring positive changes to immigration law. Yes, I said it. While I don’t practice employment-based immigration law, I know that this area has a lot of problems and perhaps the Trump Administration will understand how the labor market needs foreign workers better than past administrations.
Political campaigns typically need an “other” as the enemy to rally against. Be it communism, terrorism, or immigrants, fear works to solidify a base. And Donald Trump did not become the businessman and now-politician he is by being stupid. He chose a population that has often been voiceless, one that cannot vote, and made them his scapegoat. Does he truly believe immigrants are evil? No. He’s married to one, his children have an immigrant mother, he’s even said that some of his best employees are immigrants. Like politicians before him, he has said extreme things to get votes. It’s ugly, it’s not excusable, but it’s not new.
And finally, take heart in this. As I write this, it appears that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. Over half of the people who voted did not vote for Donald Trump to become our President. So if you feel as though the country is against you, your family, your friends, or your faith – I promise you it is not. Even people who voted for Donald Trump are not against you. They were scared, as you may be scared right now. But I challenge you to take that energy and turn it into educating and sharing your story and showing your compassion and kindness to your neighbors.
We need to fight for immigrant rights. We may need to fight more than ever in the upcoming years. That fight, though, has to be with Washington, DC. Let’s stop fighting with each other, though. In our daily lives, what we can do right now, starting now is to make everyone less afraid and to win back the heart of our country and our own hearts back.
Today is tough because we don’t know what’s going to happen. But we cannot let fear lead us. We still have the Constitution, we have rights, and we have protections. I don’t discount the fear – not for a moment. But we can never ever give up on this country of immigrants.