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Migration policies under the Trump Administration

Presenting the various policy changes which occurred during the past five years regarding migration, and how they affected the migration flows
I was wondering if you could maybe give us a few pointers or talk about Trump’s presidency, specifically how it approached migration. There was a lot going on and it was a very significant change. So maybe you can illuminate us on that. Sure. Well, thanks for inviting me. It’s really a pleasure to be here today. I think when we think about Trump, we need to think really in terms of what he was saying at the beginning of the campaign. How he got into the presidency. How important immigration was in 2016, 2017. And then in retrospective, what happened.
And I think if you think about when he was in the campaign, he was talking about building the wall in the southern border of Mexico and the United States, cutting legal immigration, deporting unauthorized migrants, banning refugees. And in different ways– he was not successful in everything that he promised, fortunately, but he did have a lot of impacts in terms of what he actually did. So the wall was not built, but there was already a big fence, and there’s already a very strong, secured border in the Mexico-US border. But he failed in building this wall that he aimed to.
He did cut legal migration, he did put a lot of requirements for new applications that actually delayed the process for legal migration. In terms of deporting unauthorized migrants, he did send back a lot of people and removed lots of people. The numbers were not as high as with President Obama, for example. And we can talk further about that, because it has a huge impact in Mexico-US flows, but also in what happens for migrants in Mexico and for Mexican migrants in the US. But I think that– I mean, one of the first things that he did was to ban the entry of some Muslim countries, trying to cut back and banning refugees.
And he did have a huge impact in just dismantling the refugee system and making it really hard for people that are seeking protection to actually get refugee status and arrive to the country. So I mean, those were some of the main policies that he implemented and that have still had impacts today. Absolutely. No, those are, for one presidency– I’m not an expert, of course, in the legacy of presidents specifically tackling migration, but that’s a lot of policies specifically aiming at migration and refugee status, for one term, to be implemented. And you mentioned the impact that they had on the flows. What would you say is the biggest initial impact? So in the short term, what is currently visible? Right.
So I mean, I think from the beginning, he was really open in terms of how he wanted to control immigration and enhance immigration enforcement. His whole speech of making America great again was an anti-immigrant discourse. And I think that maybe the most impactful change is not necessarily in the more than 100 changes of the laws that he implemented or just, like, how complicated now the immigration system is after his presidency. But really, I think it has an impact on how migrants are seen, and the increase of xenophobia and racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
And those are harder to change sometimes, because if you think about executive orders or just like legal changes in different programs or reform, sometimes they’re easier to change. I mean, you can sign another executive order to actually ban the Muslim travel ban. But trying to think how immigrants are actually at advantage of the country and the discourse that we have today and before in the United States, that is harder to change, I think. But I have to say that, I mean, I think we are all aware in the world about the zero tolerance border policy that started in 2018 when he implemented it.
Although it was a policy that came back from the Obama administration that had the terrible effect of separating families and putting children in cages. And I think, when you think about that policy, in terms of numbers, it was not– I mean, it was not the most impactful policy that he had. But I think it had the strongest impact worldwide in terms of how everyone denounced how it was to have children in detention and separated from their families. And I think that, now in retrospective, had actually a huge impact in trying to tell President Trump you cannot do whatever you want. And I think that actually was a control to all of the things that he actually did later.
So for example, the implementation of MPP, the Migration Protection Protocols, that made refugees and asylum seekers wait for their claim and their process being done while staying in Mexico, had a huge impact not only on the flows, which is– I mean, what the question was– in terms of how it was supposed to actually deter migrants to get to Mexico, and then try to cross to the United States. But I think it had a huge impact in terms of how refugee and the asylum system is conceived and all the different difficulties that the United States has implemented to actually protect people in need.
And specifically for flows from Central America, the MPP did deter some people to arrive, although migrant caravans continue to arrive in smaller numbers. But I think that it was clear that immigration policy in the United States can create populations in Mexico that live in a legal limbo. And from the Mexican perspective, that’s very dangerous and it’s something that we need to be really aware of. We already have a huge population of 12 million, 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States that live in these legal limbo. But trying to replicate that in other areas can be very challenging. And specifically for Mexico, it’s really complicated.
And we’re trying now to solve that problem, and President Biden decided to restart receiving applications for those who were under MPP. But it’s true that whatever– I mean, US migration policies have impact worldwide. And here in Mexico, we feel those impacts more strongly. You had war, like, over decades, right? And so the impacts of the war in Central America, of the wars, had economic impact, social, political, impacts. You had a lot of migrants who left, and then you have the children that are trying to reunite them. So that’s why you see a large number of unaccompanied children. Most of them have their parents in the United States.
And so, I mean, their transit through Mexico is explained also for those reasons. Not only because Mexico might be a less attractive destination for migrants, but because you do have strong ties between the United States and Central America. But when I say that, I mean, we have not seen very clear legal pathways for migrants to the United States. It’s exactly because, I mean, since IRCA, we have had limited options for them to migrate. Although, for example, for Salvadorans, Salvadorans were eligible through TPS. And so they were granted this temporary status that allowed them to live in the city and to have better outcomes in terms of accessing jobs and– I mean, they lived in a very different condition to Mexicans.
But still, right now, you need to think that the social ties between these countries are already set up for future flows. And if the conditions in Central America do not change and you do not see changes in– not only in the economic opportunities, but in the political spectrum, you have a lot of instability, you have corruption, you have problems of rule of law in these countries. Then all of these factors will definitely motivate people to move. And Central America is also a region that is very affected by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other environmental factors that also make people to leave. So I think all of these makes flows to continue. Right? Absolutely.
Well, thank you so much for these answers, and especially thank you so much for your time. It was great to talk to you.
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