US Election 2020 Key Issues: Immigration, immigrants and where Trump and Biden stand

COVID-19, which has hit the United States the hardest, has allowed the Trump administration to further push extensive immigration restrictions

US Election 2020 Key Issues: Immigration, immigrants and where Trump and Biden stand

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, Donald Trump kept the subject of immigration central to his successful presidential campaign, leading with the promise of an ”impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” border wall with Mexico.

On becoming president, he made sure immigration never took a back seat in his agenda, with his administration undertaking over 400 executive actions on a range of issues from visa processes and immigration courts to refugee settlements and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These sweeping immigration reforms under Trump have been some of the most dramatic in a single presidency.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the United States the hardest, has allowed the Trump administration to further push extensive immigration restrictions. “In light of the attack from the invisible enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our great American citizens, I will be signing an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States,” Trump announced in a tweet in April.

The weeks leading to the 2020 presidential elections have seen Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden disagree radically on issues of immigration, with Trump seeking to continue with harsher immigration regulations and Biden planning to undo most of Trump’s work in the last four years.

Where Trump stands

In his second term, Trump plans to build on the agenda of immigration he pushed in the first term, with focus on preventing undocumented immigrants from becoming eligible for state-sponsored welfare measures, including in healthcare and education. He also wishes to continue constructing the southern border wall with Mexico and oppose the Democratic-led ‘sanctuary’ cities.

Trump’s plan on immigration also includes the “mandatory deportation” of non-citizen gang-members and a clampdown on human trafficking networks. This is in addition to requiring “new immigrants to be able to support themselves financially”. The president’s campaign did not release any details on how these measures might be enacted into law.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump implemented a public health emergency policy that allows officials to bypass prevalent legal processes and rapidly deport migrants, including children and asylum seekers who are caught at the Mexico border.

Earlier in 2018, the president’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration to prosecute illegal border crossings saw thousands of children being forcibly separated from their parents who were detained on the Mexico border. This move came under severe criticism then, and has featured in presidential debates this year.

The United States supreme court in 2017 ruled against the Trump administration’s “arbitrary and capricious” decision to end the DACA programme, which protects immigrant (and undocumented) children in the country, popularly called Dreamers, from being deported. In his campaign for re-election, Trump has denied being against Dreamers but has also stayed away from promises to strengthen the DACA programme.

Where Biden stands

Biden and the Democrats have built their election plank on immigration largely around reversing most of the immigration policies enacted under Trump. For starters, Biden said he would halt the construction of the border wall with Mexico, although he will not tear down the section of the wall build so far.

In contrast to the rapid deportations under Trump amid the coronavirus pandemic, Biden has promised to pause all deportations for 100 days after taking office but has not clarified if he will reverse other pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Trump.

Biden has also pledged to increase the number of refugees that come into the United States annually. He has set the cap on the annual global refugee admissions at 1.25 lakh. The former vice-president seeks to “immediately reverse the Trump administration’s cruel and senseless policies” that separate children from their parents at borders and end the prosecution of parents for minor immigration violations.

He also wants to end Trump’s “detrimental” asylum policies and bring in reforms in the management of asylum systems to avoid violence and chaos at the border. On DACA, Biden promises to reverse Trump’s “counterproductive” decision to terminate the programme. He said he will ensure Dreamers are protected from separation from their families and are eligible for federal student aid.

Biden also plans to ease the process of naturalisation of green card holders, claiming it was “wrong” for the Trump administration to have made the road to citizenship difficult for qualified green card holders residing in the country.

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