If there’s one issue on which the Trump administration has actually succeeded in ramming through some policy changes, it’s immigration. Though hard to track all the moves the administration has made, especially with the slew of legal challenges, protests, and even corporate boycott against their policies, the fact remains that the landscape of immigration enforcement has changed since Trump took office. And if the rest of the administration’s anti-immigrant wish list is checked off, the changes to how this country receives, treats, and refuses migrants will result in a notable worsening of an already hard-line approach.
Though not easy to find coherency amid the onslaught, the administration’s immigration stance was perhaps best summed up by Trump himself last January, while discussing a possible end to protected status for over 300,000 people: “Why are we having all of these people from shithole countries here? We should have more people from places like Norway.” By “shithole countries” the president was referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa, though the administration doesn’t offer immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, Mexico, or other Central American countries—whether rhetorically or policy-wise—much more dignity.
The administration has implemented, or tried to implement, a host of major immigration policy changes since taking office 18 months ago, including sharply limiting the number of refugees to the lowest levels since modern refugee laws were instituted, banning refugees from eight Muslim-majority countries, promising to build a wall along the southern border, promising to hire more Border Patrol agents, sending the National Guard to the border, raising the bar for asylum eligibility, rescinding protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, expanding immigration detention, expanding interior immigration enforcement, canceling the DACA program, canceling Temporary Protective Status, denying green cards to people who have used public benefits, forcing immigration judges to rush cases, separating thousands of children from their parents, transferring children in the middle of the night to a “tent city” in Texas, and attempting to detain child migrants indefinitely. Of course, many past administrations have implemented some or variations of many of these policies, but no other administration in generations has so pointedly tried to hound, round up, deport—and generally make life miserable for—migrants.
The administration is “creating an environment of profound hostility,” as Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director for the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), told me. (Archila was one of the women who passionately confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator last week during the Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, shortly before the senator urged an FBI investigation into the sexual-assault allegations.) Together with Make the Road New York (MRNY), CPD published an alarming data brief estimating that if the administration were able to effectively implement its “zero-tolerance” policy—its attempt to prosecute all people who cross the border outside of a port of entry—the number of migrants in private detention centers would rocket from between 290 to 580 percent in the next two years. Currently, the number of migrants detained on any given day—spurred in large part by the momentum from a 2009 congressionally mandated bed quota—is around 45,000 people. If “zero tolerance” is ever actually fully implemented, that number could reach, according to MRNY and CPD’s calculations, almost 300,000 detained migrants a day.