Felix Haynes examines the policies of presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists legally admitted to the United States killed 2,977 and wounded 304 people by hijacking and crashing four airliners. Since then, the legal admission of those terrorists has provoked major dissension about how to structure U.S. immigration policy to protect us.
That dissension has continued to this day.
During the 1980s and 1990s, laws were enacted that deemed family reunification an immigration mainstay. Procedures to admit professional and technical workers temporarily to fill positions for which the supply of qualified American workers was insufficient were passed, but no such program was established to legalize the many migrant workers crossing the Mexican border illegally to fill the unmet needs of growers in states such as Florida, Texas, and California. In 1986, Congress provided a path to citizenship for undocumented workers who entered the U.S. before January 1, 1982.
But the impact of the growers’ need for labor caused a great increase in the number of undocumented immigrants crossing the Mexican border, and those numbers caused many to campaign for a temporary workers’ program and a path to U.S. citizenship.
In 2005, then-President George W. Bush proposed comprehensive immigration legislation which included a path to American citizenship for undocumented workers. But a groundswell of national Republican-led opposition, fueled by a desire to control the growth of undocumented agricultural workers and to secure our borders first, killed the bill. Congress subsequently provided funding to construct a wall across the 1,200-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. The project had been started, but not completed, when Bush left office.
Barack Obama’s presidency saw administration proposals for comprehensive immigration legislation, including a path to citizenship. But besides executive orders supporting the children of undocumented immigrants who had gained citizenship by being born here, and a great influx of children sent alone across the border by their parents, no new immigration laws were passed. Republicans charged that the Obama administration was not enforcing immigration law, allowing undocumented immigrants to cross the border at will in the hopes of building the voting base of the Democrat party.
Donald Trump made immigration policy a mainstay of his campaign for the presidency. Picking up the decade-long Republican argument about securing the border first, he insisted that border security must be our top priority. He would address this issue by calling for the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and for “extreme vetting” of temporary immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries previously identified by the Obama administration as being “countries of concern” under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. Within the U.S., Trump would deport undocumented immigrants, focusing on those who have either committed or been convicted of crimes.
Since Trump was elected, he has attempted to implement his immigration proposals. Although some of his proposals have met with success, others were met with Democrats’ resistance and the issuance of temporary legal injunctions preventing him from implementing them.
The central themes of the opposition to Trump’s immigration proposals include the human factor, the harm done to an estimated 12 to 20 million undocumented U.S. residents by sending them back to their country of origin, and to those from the seven countries targeted for “extreme vetting.” The Observer’s April 21 edition contained a well-written article by reporter Daniel Figueroa examining that human factor.
At the other end of the policy spectrum, our April 7 edition included a column I wrote which compared Bush’s and Obama’s policies and posed the question: “How far is the United States willing to go to protect Americans from further attacks?”
Trump has posed multiple answers to that question, and his election has provided at least some mandate for him to implement them. But his opposition has certainly slowed the implementation of his proposals, and we await the development of final answers to that question by the three co-equal branches of our American government: Congress, President Trump, and the Courts.
Felix Haynes is a co-owner of the Plant City Times & Observer.