President Donald Trump and his administration have been sending a message in recent weeks: Trump's campaign rhetoric on immigration was not just talk. In fact, it was just the beginning.
Trump has never shied from his attacks on illegal immigration, which, alongside a US-Mexico border wall, was a core component of his campaign.
Trump has never shied from his attacks on illegal immigration
Groups that have long advocated for reducing overall immigration are energized
But doubts existed about his commitment level, as some of the more aggressive proposals considered by the administration languished in bureaucratic morass and as he said strongly favorable things about recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September as he opted to end it.
Of late, however, Trump and the administration have upped their rhetoric on immigration.
Trump has railed in several instances against "chain migration" and lotteries for green cards. His administration is moving to alter a program for the spouses of high-skilled visa holders. And the White House and Congress remain far apart on how to address DACA.
In mid-September, Trump wrote, "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?"
But since then, he has insisted on controversial immigration reduction proposals that would have a hard time passing even among some Republicans, including drastically cutting the overall number of green cards given out annually and transforming the way they are given out, placing a heavy emphasis on only highly skilled, English-speaking immigrants and not low-skilled individuals.
Groups that have long advocated for reducing overall immigration are energized.
"We're excited about how the administration has held firmly to these issues," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "We've put almost $1 million into ads. ... This is the moment we've been waiting for four decades."
Stein was especially pleased with Trump's recent insistence that any deal to save DACA, which protected young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, include cuts to family-based immigration, or "chain migration," and the diversity visa program, which allows up to 50,000 individuals from countries with low levels of immigration to the US to come on visas distributed by lottery.
Chain migration focus
The administration also was quick to point out that two recent terrorist attacks in New York City were committed by individuals with connections to family-based migration and the diversity lottery.
"You think the countries' giving us their best people?" Trump said Friday in a speech to law enforcement personnel. "No. What kind of system is that? They come in by lottery. They give us their worst people, put them in a bin, but in his hand when he is picking them is really the worst of the worst."
The theme of the dangers of immigrants -- despite no research showing them to be more prone to crime than the native-born population -- has been particularly hammered by longtime immigration hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"If we accept lawlessness, then we encourage lawlessness. When people break our laws without consequences, we shouldn't be surprised when they continue breaking our laws," Sessions said in a speech last week. "We should give priority to those who are likely to thrive here -- such as those who speak English or are highly skilled -- not someone chosen at random or who happens to be somebody's relative."
In reality, individuals in those countries are selected randomly but still must meet the security and eligibility requirements placed on all immigrants to actually get their visas. Diversity recipients specifically must also have at least a high school education or equivalent and job experience. The process includes an in-person interview, and anyone that is found to be a security threat would be inadmissible to the US.
While the diversity lottery only affects about 50,000 of roughly 1 million green cards given out to the US annually, Trump has supported legislation from two GOP senators that would drastically reduce family visa categories, cutting yearly numbers in half.
The administration has also made its own efforts to reduce immigration levels without Congress, including setting a historically low number of refugee admissions for next year, instituting the travel ban and submitting would-be visitors and immigrants to "extreme vetting."
Late last week, the Department of Homeland Security revealed it intends to do away with work permits for spouses of high-skilled visa holders who are waiting in a years-long green card backlog. The announcement also said the agency intends to set a higher bar for the high-skilled visa itself.
New Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spent last week establishing her hardline immigration bona fides, touting security at the border and attacking sanctuary cities and immigrant-related crime. Her tour came after weeks of broadsides from Trump-aligned sources like Breitbart, which had pejoratively nicknamed her "Lady DACA."
Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and Obama administration alum, said that while there may be some fraud in the immigration system, the Trump agenda goes beyond reasonably trying to resolve it.
"They're not just fixing the system, they are signaling a belief that regardless of their skills and talent, people from foreign countries are not welcome," Fresco said. "Many of these reforms that are being implemented are simply out of the wishlist of the anti-immigrant groups and are not serving a legitimate purpose of reforming the immigration system. ... The goal is to reduce the total number of foreigners."
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