The White House gave Congress a wish list on Sunday of border security and immigration enforcement policies that, if passed, would constitute the most significant overhaul of the U.S. immigration system in a generation.
Some of the recommendations focus on the removal of illegal immigrants who have managed to evade immigration authorities at the border or in the interior of the U.S., but the list is notable for policies that would deter them from coming in the first place.
Immigration hawks cheered the Trump administration’s approach, which they say would finally eliminate the incentives for unauthorized migration that are baked into the system. Among dozens of specific proposals, there are four key policies that would discourage illegal immigration by either creating new deterrents or closing loopholes in existing law.
Immigration skeptics have long said that the greatest magnet for illegal immigration to the U.S. is lax enforcement of work authorization laws.
Groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA have unanimously called on Republican lawmakers to require universal employment verification a part of any deal to legalize recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The White House is proposing to achieve that goal through the mandatory use of e-Verify, a system that allows employers to check the employment eligibility of new hires. Only a handful of states currently require employers to use e-Verify, and only half of all job applicants nationwide are run through the system, according to Chris Chmielewski, director of content and advocacy at NumbersUSA.
“We think you can’t even talk about a DACA amnesty until you pass e-Verify because if you pass DACA without shutting off the jobs magnet you’re just going to be talking about amnesty 10 years from now,” Chmielewski told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Trump administration is also promising to punish employers who skirt employment laws to hire illegal immigrants. The new immigration principles include expanding the definition of employment discrimination to include cases where businesses hire foreign workers at the expense of available, qualified American citizens.
To the delight of immigration hawks, the Department of Justice has already taken action on this front, slapping a national tree services company with a $95 million penalty last month for employing illegal alien workers.
“Most politicians who have been commenting lately on immigration policy have failed to show the compassion and support that the Trump Administration is offering the women and men of America who want a decent shot at a decent job without having to compete with millions of new foreign workers being added to compete with them,” NumbersUSA president Roy Beck said in a statement Sunday.
About 40 percent of all illegal immigrants are people who entered the U.S. on a legitimate non-immigrant visa and never returned to their home countries, according to the Trump administration.
The Department of Homeland Security found that more than 600,000 non-immigrant arrivals had no recorded departure from the U.S. after their visas expired, according to its Fiscal Year 2016 Entry/Exit report. Immigration authorities typically apprehend only a tiny fraction of those cases, while the rest remain in the U.S. and potentially become eligible for immigration benefits if they can successfully adjust status.
In order to eliminate that incentive, the White House is asking Congress to make overstaying a visa a misdemeanor offense and to bar anyone who violates visa terms from receiving immigration benefits.
The Trump administration is proposing to tighten rules governing the asylum system, which it says is often exploited by illegal immigrants who don’t have legitimate claims of persecution in their home countries.
When an asylum officer determines that an applicant has a “credible fear” of persecution, the applicant receives a hearing before an immigration judge. These credible fear cases often take years to resolve due to the enormous backlog in immigration court.
Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge and current resident fellow at CIS, says the “credible fear” process is vulnerable to fraud because aliens are often released from detention before the court judge can hear their asylum claims and sent to a “non-detained court.”
“This gives an alien in expedited removal proceedings even more reason to make a fraudulent credible fear claim, because if that claim is successful, the alien can remain in the United States for a significant period of time before even having a hearing on his or her asylum claim, allowing the alien to work (which is usually the goal of an illegal entrant), build up equities, or become eligible for another immigration benefit,” he wrote in an April 2017 report.
To close the loophole, the White House wants to “elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews” and impose penalties on applicants who file “frivolous, baseless, or fraudulent asylum applications.”
Under current U.S. law, unaccompanied minors (UAC) from countries other than Canada and Mexico are processed into immigration court and then transferred to the the custody of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. HHS then hands the minor over to a sponsor in the U.S. while the case awaits a hearing before an immigration judge — a process that can take years.
Often times, UACs are resettled with sponsors who are themselves in the country illegally. Federal records obtained by the Associated Press show that 80 percent of the 71,000 mostly Central American children placed between February 2014 and September 2015 were sent to illegal immigrant sponsors.
The UAC program is also notorious for losing track of migrants once they’ve been assigned to immigration court. In a February 2017 study, the Center for Immigration Studies found that more than a third of completed UAC cases ended up with an order of removal issued in absentia, meaning the subject failed to appear for a court hearing.
The administration says current UAC policies encourage families in Central America to send their children on a dangerous journey to the U.S, knowing that the law does not allow the children to be immediately returned home.
“These loopholes in current law create a dramatic pull factor for additional illegal immigration and in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the apprehensions of UACs at our southern border,” the White House wrote in its statement on immigration principles.
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