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Tearing Families Apart: The Impact of Trump's Immigration Agenda

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Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency has been defined by his assault on immigrant families and communities, starting from the moment he launched his campaign in 2015. The Trump Administration has weaponized a long-broken immigration system to enact a series of policies that resulted in an unprecedented xenophobic attack on our families, communities, and economy.

These policies have hurt all of us. President Trump has done everything in his power to subject more than one million DACA recipients and TPS holders to deportation, including hundreds of thousands of essential frontline workers helping our communities survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He has separated children from their mothers and fathers, both at the border and across the country, inflicting far-reaching trauma to children and families and harming communities. He has blocked millions of individuals from coming to the U.S. through existing immigration channels, undercutting our nation’s ability to respond to and recover from the ongoing public health and economic crisis. Throughout, the Trump Administration has relentlessly scapegoated immigrants for the challenges our country faces.

These anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric have taken a devastating toll on our country — but we must not forget that Americans of all backgrounds overwhelmingly continue to reject the President’s immigration agenda. People across the country flooded airports in response to the President’s travel ban, have taken to the streets to support DACA recipients and TPS holders, and voiced strong, continued opposition to President Trump’s cruel family separations. Additionally, the President’s attempts to fearmonger about individuals seeking refuge at the southern border ahead of the 2018 midterms cost his party control of the House of Representatives. Numerous candidates running anti-immigrant campaigns lost decisively in states like Pennsylvania, Kansas, Virginia, Iowa, and Arizona. And polls consistently show that while the President has tried to demonize immigrants, support for immigrants and increased immigration levels has grown, even among the President’s own supporters. In short, the anti-immigrant policies, and President Trump’s continuous use of anti-immigrant rhetoric over the last four years, have driven voters away from the President, and have in fact increased support for immigrants and immigration.

President Trump made immigration the dominant issue of his campaign, and then of his first term, and his record will be at the front of voters’ minds as we approach the November elections. Over the next four weeks, we will examine some of the Trump Administration’s most consequential immigration policies and identify the impact of these policies on our families, communities, and economy. We will also detail the overwhelming rejection of these actions by the American public, which has been galvanized by the courageous leadership of the people most severely impacted by these policies, and further assess the political ramifications.

"By every measure, DACA and TPS have both been a tremendous success."

Dismantling DACA & Terminating TPS: A Moral and Economic Disaster That Hurts All Americans

More than one million immigrants living, working, and contributing to our communities are legally protected from deportation by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Trump’s continued attempts to deport these members of our families and communities has been one of the defining tenets of his anti-immigrant agenda. By every measure, DACA and TPS have both been a tremendous success, helping to strengthen our communities and grow our economy, but Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine these programs through unilateral executive action. He has also wielded the threat of family separation as leverage to enact dramatic cuts to our legal immigration system, including effectively ending asylum.

The President’s efforts have been overwhelmingly rejected by the American people, who have been galvanized by the bravery of DACA recipients and TPS holders who have courageously shared their stories. Multiple federal courts — including the Supreme Court — have repeatedly blocked the Trump Administration’s attempts to terminate these programs. These efforts have come at a significant political cost — including losing his party control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 election. These same actions continue to threaten his re-election chances this year.

Throughout these attacks, DACA recipients and TPS holders have continued to contribute to their families and communities. Hundreds of thousands of people are working on the frontlines in essential jobs that are keeping all Americans safe and healthy during the deadly coronavirus pandemic. They are vital to our nation’s economic recovery as we work to respond and rebuild. Despite their many contributions and the clear necessity of welcoming hardworking immigrants to our communities, Trump has made clear that he will terminate these programs if he wins in November, and opponents will have little recourse to stop DACA recipients and TPS holders from being deported.

In this report, we examine the human consequences of Trump’s attempts to terminate DACA and TPS — not only the harm done to the more than one million hardworking people protected by these two programs, but also to families, communities and economies across the country. We will also explore the political impact of these decisions, and the public’s overwhelming rejection of these policies.

"Without a permanent legislative solution that provides a path to citizenship, all DACA recipients and TPS holders face the threat of deportation and separation from their families and loved ones."

The Trump Administration’s Actions Targeting Dreamers and TPS Holders

Since 2017, the Trump Administration’s legacy has been defined by xenophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric, ongoing attacks on immigrant families living in the United States, and attempts to slash legal immigration to its lowest levels in nearly a century. Among those most vulnerable are more than one million hardworking immigrants currently shielded from deportation under DACA and TPS.

Trump has repeatedly pledged to end DACA and TPS, making more than one million immigrants deportable and separating more than half a million U.S.-citizen children from their parents who are protected by these programs. For more than eight years, DACA has provided temporary protection from deportation and renewable work authorization to nearly 700,000 young people. All came to the U.S. as children and have lived here for an average of 20 years, arriving in the U.S. on average at the age of 6. Trump first tried terminating DACA in September 2017, but over the last three years, an extended legal battle has kept DACA renewals open for young immigrants who came to this country as children. No court has ruled the program is unconstitutional. These vital protections have benefited Dreamers and their families, while also strengthening communities across the country and the entire American economy.

In June 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark 5-4 ruling on the future of DACA, stating that President Trump broke the law and acted unlawfully in his attempt to end the program. The ruling ordered the full restoration of DACA, including the acceptance and processing of new applications and applications for advance parole. Six weeks later and without ever fully restoring DACA, the Trump Administration issued a defiant new policy memo cutting in half the length of time under which DACA program protections are granted, and excluding applications from hundreds of thousands of would-be first-time DACA candidates who should have been eligible. This action was another effort to subvert the will of the Supreme Court, and it has laid the groundwork for the complete termination of the DACA program in 2021.

Similarly, more than 300,000 immigrants with TPS have been lawfully living in the U.S. for decades under humanitarian protection, building their families here, going to school, and actively contributing to our workforce. Congress created TPS in the Immigration Act of 1990 to provide protections for people already in the U.S. who are from countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent their safe return. In its September 2020 Ramos v. Nielsen decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling and gave the Trump Administration the green light to terminate TPS protections. As a result, Salvadorans with TPS could be forced to leave the U.S. by Nov. 5, 2021. Individuals from Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan will see their deportation protections end on March 5, 2021. Without Congress passing a permanent legislative solution that provides a pathway to citizenship, hundreds of thousands of U.S.-born children whose parents are protected under TPS will face family separation, or be forced to leave the U.S. in order to stay together with their families in a country they do not know.

Over the past four years, effective legal advocacy, organizing, and court orders to protect DACA and TPS holders have allowed both programs partially to continue. The House of Representatives passed legislation creating an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS holders — the American Dream and Promise Act — by a bipartisan vote in June in 2019, but it remains stalled in the Senate. Without a permanent legislative solution that provides a path to citizenship, all DACA recipients and TPS holders face the threat of deportation and separation from their families and loved ones.

The Human Impact of Ending DACA and TPS

The Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to dismantle DACA and terminate TPS are all part of its same cruel and inhumane policy of family separation. Nearly 500,000 U.S. citizen kids have parents protected by these programs. All of their lives have been thrown into chaos due to the Trump Administration’s actions.

Dreamers are hardworking young people who are American in every way except on paper, and who have called the U.S. home since childhood. If DACA is terminated, about 27,008 DACA recipients will lose work authorization and protection from deportation every single month for the next two years; that’s about 6,000 each week, or 900 people each day. The human cost of deporting mothers, fathers, neighbors and beloved community members will be astronomical.

Beyond the staggering moral cost of evicting immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for decades, removing more than one million people from the workforce would cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost GDP over the next decade. As taxpayers, Dreamers and TPS holders are economic multipliers and workforce leaders in American companies. As business owners, many of them also employ U.S. citizens. The economic impact of deporting these individuals will be devastating across the country.

Deporting Dreamers and TPS holders also stands to hurt our nation’s health and economic recovery, particularly at a time when the unprecedented COVID-19 global health crisis has taken the lives of more than 200,000 Americans. Roughly 200,000 DACA recipients — more than one-third of the entire DACA population — as well as an estimated 131,000 TPS holders, are fighting on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic in essential roles, from healthcare to agriculture, and transportation to education.

Work authorization granted through TPS and DACA has also increased immigrants’ financial stability. In addition to benefiting local economies, large purchases — such as homes and vehicles — make significant contributions to state and local tax revenues, helping to fund basic city services, neighborhood schools, and public infrastructure projects that benefit all Americans.

As a sanitation worker, Fernando Flores, who immigrated decades ago from El Salvador, is among the 131,000 TPS holders working in essential roles during the pandemic. Flores wakes up at 3:30 a.m. six days a week to transport hundreds of gallons of contaminated liquid from San Mateo County’s only landfill. He has been an employee of the same waste management company for about 16 years. Households with TPS members collectively pay approximately $3.6 billion in taxes per year, and are valuable members of our communities. Despite these contributions, Flores’ future in the U.S. remains in jeopardy, as the Trump Administration tries to terminate these vital humanitarian protections.

Ripping more than one million Dreamers and TPS holders away from the country they call home will have incalculable costs for our country, the communities where they are beloved members, and the families they support financially, including more than half a million U.S. citizen children who have a parent with TPS or DACA. Beyond the health risks of global travel during a deadly pandemic, many immigrants face deportation to countries which have been issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory from the U.S. Department of State due to the threat of violence, arbitrary arrests, and more.

“Voters continue to reject the President’s anti-immigrant agenda...”

Targeting Immigrants: A Losing Political Strategy

While Trump won the presidency by the narrowest of margins, his efforts to target immigrants — notably DACA recipients and TPS holders — have been wildly unpopular.

Numerous national polls, including those by Pew Research Center, Gallup, and The Immigration Hub, have shown that Americans, including Trump’s own supporters, are significantly more pro-immigrant now than when Trump took office — or even when his party decisively lost the House in the 2018 midterm elections. His divisive rhetoric and continued attacks on immigrant families are hurting his reelection prospects. Voters continue to reject the President’s anti-immigrant agenda, because they have seen firsthand the incredible human and economic damage his policies have wrought over the last four years. Importantly, only 12% of Trump voters believe Dreamers should be deported, while across the political spectrum, support for allowing Dreamers to stay in the country has swelled to historic highs.

A September 2020 poll of likely voters in battleground states also found that Trump’s weakness extends to his positions on immigration, which more voters say is a reason to vote against him than for him. Similarly, voters overwhelmingly support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been long-standing members of American communities, have paid taxes, and have passed a background check. And an increasing number of voters in key swing states are expressing “major doubts” about casting their ballots for a president who, despite the Supreme Court ruling against him on DACA, repeatedly tries to deport Dreamers.

“...There is strong support for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants with longstanding ties to the U.S.”

Trump Is Laying The Groundwork to Fully Terminate DACA and TPS in 2021

DACA recipients and TPS holders who have lived for decades in the United States face fear and uncertainty, despite long-standing ties and the invaluable contributions they have made to our communities and our economy; this is especially acute in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. A majority of Americans agree that Congress should immediately pass bipartisan legislation to protect these populations permanently from deportation, so that they can continue to live, work in, and contribute to the country they know as home.

Since 2017, a diverse array of individuals and organizations, such as higher education institutions, educators, parents, healthcare professionals, law enforcement officials, business leaders, elected leaders, states, cities and counties, national security leaders, civil rights organizations, former government officials, academics and scholars, labor unions, and legal experts, have urged Congress to pass legislation protecting Dreamers and TPS holders. Passage of a permanent legislative solution is the only course of action that will prevent millions of individuals’ lives from being upended in the country they love — but Congress must act with urgency.

The threat facing Dreamers and TPS holders is an entirely avoidable crisis that impacts millions of Americans. In spite of the overwhelming benefits, and overwhelming public support, the Trump Administration has made clear its intent to terminate deportation protections and move forward with separating millions of families. In January 2020, ICE made clear that it is already preparing to deport Dreamers as quickly as possible should the Trump Administration end the DACA program. 

Critically, there is strong support for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants with longstanding ties to the U.S., including Dreamers, TPS holders and the broader undocumented population. In order to address the big challenges of our time, we must not only undo the cruel Trump policies of the last four years, but transform our broken immigration system to create processes that are just, equitable, and humane. This recovery begins with the legalization of Dreamers, TPS holders, and undocumented immigrants who continue to answer the call to keep our country afloat and protect all of our lives in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

“President Trump’s deliberate policies further institutionalized and weaponized family separation...”

The Trump Administration's Separation of Families

The Trump Administration’s separation of families at the border was one of the most devastating and unpopular decisions of the last four years. More than 5,000 children were ripped from their parents’ arms in a deliberate policy decision designed to deter people from legally claiming asylum at the border. This draconian policy was coupled with a series of actions that further created chaos and confusion, and led to far-reaching traumatic consequences for children and families attempting to come to the United States. These policies were widely reported on, and were overwhelmingly rejected by people across the country, but the Trump Administration’s policy of separating families extended far beyond the border.

According to a study by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and the Center for American Progress, more than 8 million U.S. citizens, live with undocumented family members, and hundreds of thousands of these families have been separated because of President Trump’s interior enforcement policies. Through a series of executive orders – making essentially every undocumented person a “priority” for removal – the Trump Administration targeted mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers for deportation, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, separating thousands of U.S. citizen children from their parents. To be clear, the U.S. has a long history of separating families through slavery and then incarceration in both the criminal justice and immigration systems, but President Trump’s deliberate policies further institutionalized and weaponized family separation, devastating countless families and communities across the U.S.

President Trump’s attacks on immigrant families started in his campaign, and began to be institutionalized the first week of his Presidency. In January 2017, the Trump Administration issued a series of executive orders that removed all immigration enforcement priorities, ensuring that virtually every undocumented person in the U.S. would become a priority for deportation. Because enforcement priorities have become nonexistent, there is no room left for the individual assessment of immigration cases. Even worse, thousands of undocumented people have been funneled into mass detention centers in appalling conditions, which are unsafe, crowded, and deadly – even moreso in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports of abuse in detention have increased, including a horrifying recent whistleblower complaint of women in ICE custody having been forced to undergo sterilizations without their consent. Shortly after President Trump took office, ICE arrests rose by a staggering 30% in FY17, and removal cases involving residents who have been living in the U.S. for longer periods of time have increased dramatically, too. One example is the increased detention and deportation of Black Mauritanians to statelessness, torture and slavery, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years.

Under the Trump Administration, ICE has also ramped up workplace raids, including conducting 680 arrests on one occasion – the largest single-state workplace raid in U.S. history – at a poultry-processing plant in Mississippi. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration has continued to endanger thousands of individuals directly, as well as our broader communities, with dangerous, reckless policies that have contributed to coronavirus outbreaks, such as by:

  • Continuing to carry out large-scale enforcement operations
  • Unnecessarily transferring people between detention centers
  • Denying parole to immigrants at high-risk for contracting COVID-19
  • Continuing deportations to countries with underfunded healthcare systems, and to countries that have travel restrictions in place
  • Threatening other nations working hard to combat COVID-19 with visa sanctions if they did not accept deportation flights

These policies have devastated communities across the country and directly threatened the lives of thousands of individuals – making all of us less safe.

In addition to separating families in the interior of the country, the Trump Administration has issued a myriad of rules and policies targeting the U.S. asylum system in order to further separate families, and block thousands of vulnerable children, families and vulnerable adults from accessing asylum protections in violation of U.S. law and international obligations. These harmful policies have ripped thousands of families apart, and stranded many more thousands of people at the U.S.-Mexico border through the dangerous “Remain in Mexico” program, as well as further south through the Administration’s  third-country agreements. In April 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DOJ’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which caused thousands of families who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border between a port of entry to be separated. As a result of this cruel policy, which the UN Human Rights Council stated “may amount to torture,” at least 5,460 children were forcibly separated from their parents at the southern border. Several thousand children still have not been accounted for, and are at extreme risk of abuse, exploitation, and harm.

Worse still, the Trump Administration has exploited the coronavirus crisis to separate families through the expulsion of more than 159,000 people, including 8,800 children at the border, and has tried to accelerate the deportation of unaccompanied minors already in the U.S. even faster, rather than letting them reunite with family while pursuing their asylum cases. Additionally, the Trump Administration has used the public health crisis to force parents into making an impossible choice: of either waiving their Flores Agreement rights and continuing to suffer while detained in family incarceration, or being separated from their children.

Among those families who have been separated are fathers who traveled together with their children and pregnant partners seeking protection. Due to cruel policies such as “Remain in Mexico,” some pregnant women are allowed into the U.S. to pursue their asylum case without their partners, forcing the fathers-to-be to remain in dangerous camps at the border. Families from the Caribbean, countries in Africa, and other Black asylum-seeking fathers face additional separations due to the Trump Administration’s attempts to outsource its international and domestic obligations to vulnerable people. As a result, Black asylum seekers, including fathers are often subject to detention and deportation policies such as “safe third country agreements,” or harsh enforcement measures in southern Mexico.

Family separation under the Trump Administration has resulted in unmeasurable moral, political, and economic costs that communities are grappling with every day. There’s approximately 16.7 million people in the U.S. who share a home with an undocumented family member, and nearly 6 million of them are U.S.-citizen children. Mental health professionals have spoken out against family separation policies, stating that they “may have severe consequences in a child’s developmental processes and psychosocial functioning,” and that children who have endured these separations were “more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression.” The far-reaching, traumatic impact of family separation is evident as communities are still reeling one year later from the massive ICE raid in Mississippi, which happened on the first day of school for many children. Many of the factory workers who were apprehended – who would now be considered “essential workers” amidst the pandemic, were detained for months, deported, voluntarily left the country, or were subjected to electronic monitoring. Apart from the far-reaching moral and human toll that family separation takes, detention or deportation can also put families in precarious economic situations, such as by driving down household income by as much 45%, which puts families at further risk of falling into poverty. In addition to the individual economic impacts, it is also extremely costly to taxpayers to separate families by detaining and deporting people. In FY16, ICE estimated that each deportation cost an average of $10,854, and taking parents away from their children increases chances that children will be placed in the child welfare system.

 “...the Trump Administration’s family separations have been wholly rejected by the American public, religious leaders, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle.”

Alejandra Juarez and her family experienced firsthand the cruel impact of President Trump’s harsh interior enforcement policies. She is a mother of 2 U.S. citizen girls, the wife of a Marine Corps veteran, and had called the U.S. home for more than 20 years. During a routine traffic stop in 2013, Alejandra came to ICE’s attention for being undocumented, and was ordered to meet for regular check-ins with ICE. After President Trump took office, she was considered a priority for deportation during one of her check-ins. Despite vocal public opposition and a private bill introduced by Congressman Darren Soto that would have provided relief from deportation, Alejandra was separated from her family and deported in August of 2018.

Moreover, the Trump Administration’s family separations have been wholly rejected by the American public, religious leaders, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle. During the height of the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, approximately 300,000 people across the country took to the streets to protest the cruel policy, and polling has consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans of all backgrounds reject the policy. Several senior Republicans spoke out against it, including the late Sen. McCain, who called it “an affront to the decency of the American people.” Voters’ overwhelming disapprove of President Trump’s policy of family separation, which was a major factor in his party’s loss of control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. Voters’ rejection of this policy – and their strong and growing support for immigrants and immigration, which multiple polls make clear has in fact increased since President Trump took office – indicates that they will continue to reject President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, and the elected officials who support them, in this upcoming election.

The Trump Administration’s cruel approach on immigration policy, particularly around interior enforcement and asylum at the border, has further enshrined the practice of family separation within the U.S. immigration system. These policies designed to deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible have brutalized immigrant families and communities, and hurt the economy – and continue to be rejected by Americans across the political spectrum.