How Trump Presidency Impacts Immigrants in the U.S.

By Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School
Tips for non-citizens worried about whether Donald J. Trump will make good on his various plans regarding immigrants in the United States, whether documented or not.

During his campaign, Donald J. Trump made numerous statements relating to immigration matters, concerning both undocumented immigrants and those from Muslim countries. Now that Trump has won the 2016 election and taken office, the question on many immigrants’ minds is, “What’s next, and how will it affect me?”

The answers (as of this writing, in early February 2017) remain uncertain. Trump has already issued three Executive Orders that have profoundly impacted a number of immigrants, but whose ultimate effect will depend on both subsequent action and the results of lawsuits and court decisions.

In any case, what happens to any one immigrant next depends on the person's country of nationality and current status in the United States.

If You Are an Undocumented Immigrant in the U.S.

People in the U.S. without lawful immigration status (sometimes called “illegal aliens”) have reason for concern under a Trump administration. During the campaign, he spoke of creating a “deportation force” to escort millions of people, particularly those with criminal backgrounds, out of the country.

Of particular concern to immigration advocates was that his numbers did not add up. For Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport as many millions of people as Trump said he planned to, they would have to go beyond the numbers of known criminal aliens. Indeed, one of Trump's first executive orders vastly expanded the definition of a "crime" for purposes of deportation priorities, as described in this summary of the order. It now includes mere suspicion of a crime, as well as use of fraudulent documents and illegal border crossing.

The U.S. president has the power to direct enforcement priorities, and could certainly urge ICE to institute removal proceedings against any and all undocumented persons, regardless of them having close family and other ties in the United States.

Still, it’s worth remembering that part of the reason that ICE has followed priorities for enforcement in the past is that it doesn’t have the budgetary resources to do more—and will not have any more money until and unless Congress allocates it.

If You Have DACA in the U.S.

If you have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA—because you were brought to the U.S. as a young person and have been attending school here and demonstrating good moral character—you have probably seen the headlines about Trump promising to cancel this and other Executive Orders issued by President Obama. In fact, Trump can cancel DACA as soon as he likes. Nevertheless, he hasn't done so as of early February, 2017.

As insecure as your position is, things could still change. Congress has been discussing instituting some sort of help, transitional or otherwise, for the many people about to lose their DACA status.

You might want to consult with an immigration lawyer about this and any other possible options for you. And if you are outside the U.S. with DACA-based advance parole, returning before Trump takes action on DACA would be your safest bet. If your DACA is cancelled, then you would have no basis upon which to be let back into the United States.

If You Have Lawful Permanent Residence (a Green Card)

Trump’s Executive Order has directly affected green card holders from certain Muslim-majority countries, as described in this update. Some may become stuck outside the U.S. after travelling, or encounter a bar to applying for U.S. citizenship.

Even if you are not from one of the affected countries, however, given the harsh actions directed at immigrants in general, and the fact that you could be deported over a minor crime or even forgetting to tell USCIS your new address, your safest bet is applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are able and eligible. Once you have U.S. citizenship, you can no longer be deported, and your entry to the U.S. after travel will be smoother.

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