Republicans have long claimed to support legal immigration, even as they pursue a hardline against illegal immigrants. I’ve written before how that has not been necessarily true of the Trump Administration, which has introduced a number of policies aimed at curbing legal immigration. This week yielded more bad news for proponents of legal immigration.
The first bit of bad news was the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Trump Administration’s rule blocking asylum-seekers from asking for asylum in the United States if they pass through a third country and don’t ask for asylum there first. The Court did not rule on the merits of the case but struck down an injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that prevented the government from enforcing the policy while the case was being heard.
From the perspective of proponents of legal immigration, the new policy is a bad one for several reasons. The law is aimed primarily at Central American refugees who pass through Mexico in order to ask for asylum in the US. Applying for asylum is legal under US law so the policy is clearly intended to discourage legal immigration by making it more difficult and requiring these refugees to seek asylum in Mexico.
For many reasons, Mexico is not an attractive place for asylum-seekers. Our neighbor to the South is itself a poverty-stricken nation that is plagued by drug violence. It is unlikely that Mexico can accommodate a large influx of refugees. The fact that Mexico itself is the source of many migrants to the US says a lot about the country’s ability to accept refugees.
On the other side, Republicans claim that immigrants are abusing the asylum law by asking for asylum because they are seeking economic opportunity rather than because they are part of a persecuted group. Data from the National Immigration Forum shows that in 2016, the most recent year for which complete data was available, immigration courts granted approval to asylum-seekers in 28 percent of cases. Interestingly, the largest source of asylum-seekers is China, a country that will not be affected by the new policy since most Chinese immigrants can fly directly to the US from their homeland.
The ultimate question before the Court should not be whether the Trump Administration’s policy is wise or humanitarian but whether the president has the legal authority to change US immigration law. Does the law passed by Congress grant the president the leeway to unilaterally make such a significant change? In barring the government from enforcing the rule, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar wrote that the policy “is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.” It is likely that the Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide that question, but, for now at least, the Trump Administration has another tool for turning back Central American refugees.
The second blow to legal immigration was President Trump’s decision to deny citizens of the Bahamas temporary protected status in the wake of the devastation to their country left by Hurricane Dorian. The storm left at least 50 people dead and about 2,500 are missing. An estimated 70,000 more are homeless.
Temporary protected status would allow Bahamians to temporarily live and work in the United States while their country recovers, but Reuters reported on Wednesday that the program, which currently includes about 300,000 people from 10 different countries affected by natural disasters and wars, would not be extended to hurricane refugees. Per Axios, a TPS designation would affect only those Bahamians in the US at the time of the designation, an estimated 1,500 people. Officials from Florida had requested TPS status to allow Bahamian refugees to live with families in that state earlier this week.
“The Bahamians impacted by Hurricane Dorian are facing a humanitarian crisis, and the American government, international partners and private organizations continue to support them with aid and services. At this time, we do not plan to invoke Temporary Protected Status for those currently in the United States,” a White House official said.
There seems to be no leeway in accepting Bahamian refugees. Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan of U.S. Customs and Border Protection initially said, “We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here” and that, “If your life is in jeopardy and you're in the Bahamas and you want to get to the United States, you're going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not.”
But President Trump overruled Morgan on Monday, telling reporters, “We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation. The Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there. I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members, and some very, very bad drug dealers. So, we're going to be very strong on that.”
“Bahamians must be in possession of a valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document listing nationality as Bahamian. Bahamians arriving to the United States by vessel must be in possession of a valid passport AND valid travel visa,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Monday. “Travelers who would otherwise qualify for the Visa Waiver Program and who travel by air from a CBP Preclearance facility in Freeport or Nassau may not need a U.S. visitor's visa.” The DHS statement also contradicts Morgan.
It is understandable to want immigrants to come to the US legally, but it is not understandable to insist that people obey the law and then make the law almost impossible to follow. “I want tremendous numbers of people to come in,” Donald Trump said in 2015 as he promised a “big beautiful door in the wall,” but, since becoming president, the door to legal immigration has been pushed further closed by Trump’s policies.
If Republicans really want to encourage legal immigration, the process should be made easier, not more difficult. If not, they should be honest about it.
Originally published on The Resurgent