The year of the migrant: Family separation, asylum bans and the wall
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The Trump administration unleashed in 2018 a staggering number of policies, rules and proclamations intended to obstruct U.S. immigration.
Driving the news: The House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on immigration legislation, leaving the Trump administration to use everything within its executive power to address the issue. Many of those efforts were blocked (at least temporarily) by the courts.
At the border:
The Justice Department and Homeland Security announced a "zero-tolerance" policy in May that resulted in the traumatic separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents at the border. In the face of global backlash, Trump signed an executive order calling for an end to family separation. But it took government agencies weeks of chaos to reunite migrant families.
- Record numbers of migrant children remain in Health and Human Services' shelters and newly-built tent cities. Reports of ICE arresting potential caretakers is likely deterring others from coming forward to claim custody of the kids.
- In October, news that thousands of Central American migrants were making their way to the U.S. in a "caravan" sparked headlines, angry Trump tweets and the deployment of thousands of military troops to the border. Some migrants were met with tear gas when they reached a port of entry in Tijuana a month later.
- Several stories about the mistreatment of migrants by U.S. border officials were met with outrage, including the medication of children without parental consent.
- Two migrant children — ages 7 and 8 — died in CBP's custody in just the past month.
- Trump continually tweeted about the need for "the wall" and shut down the government right before Christmas over funding for it.
Through the executive branch:
- The refugee cap was lowered (again) to a record limit of 30,000 refugees for 2019.
- Trump told Axios that he is working on an executive order to end birthright citizenship — a move that many legal experts consider unconstitutional.
- DHS ended temporary protected status (TPS) for 50,000 Honduran immigrants and 9,000 Nepalese immigrants.
- Enrollment for food stamps dropped with reports of a new DHS rule that could disqualify immigrants from visas and green cards if they use certain federal safety net programs.
- As of November, ICE was holding a record number of immigrants in its detention centers. Tent villages were constructed to house unaccompanied alien minors and the Pentagon was asked to house 20,000 immigrant children.
- DHS also cracked down on foreign workers and students, introducing harsher penalties for student visa overstays, increasing scrutiny for staffing companies that depend on H-1B visas and making it easier for immigration officials to deny visa applications and begin deportation proceedings.
In the courts:
The Supreme Court upheld Trump's travel ban, but blocked his asylum ban for migrants who cross the border illegally. The court did not take up the DACA case —protecting thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children until at least next year.
Federal judges blocked (at least temporarily) administration efforts to end:
- An Obama-era entrepreneurial visa
- Funding for sanctuary cities
- A legal limit on how long child migrants can be kept in detention
- Temporary Protected Status for around 300,000 immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan.
- The right to asylum for victims of domestic abuse or gang violence
- The right to asylum for those who cross the border illegally
On the global stage:
The U.S. was one of a small number of nations to vote against the UN Compact for Migration and Compact for Refugees.
- A wave of anti-immigration politics and rhetoric continued to sweep Europe, mirroring some of Trump's 2016 platform.
- Most recently, the U.S. cut a deal with a Mexico to keep migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. on Mexican soil until their applications are processed. The U.S. pledged billions of dollars in aid to Central American nations and southern Mexico.