Donald Trump Immigration Plan

Former President Donald J. Trump stayed true to his presidential campaign promises to reform some of the immigration policies when he took over the White House on January 20, 2017.

His plan was meant to reduce illegal immigration into the United States and reduce some legal immigrants’ privileges to protect American workers and industries. Initially, the U.S. immigration policy favored asylum seekers, refugees, and reuniting families separated due to immigration. 

Trump said that these policies allowed bad immigrants into the U.S., increasing crimes such as drug-related offenses and rape. His argument was also based on protecting jobs meant for American citizens and industries.

This article will discuss President Trump and his administration’s changes to the U.S. immigration policy on both the illegal and legal immigration systems.

Donald Trump’s White House Plan And Priorities On U.S. Immigration

Four pillars shaped the changes that Former President Trump advocated for in regards to the U.S. immigration system. These Trump’s immigration pillars were: increasing border security through Customs and Border Protection agents, replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals DACA program, ending the Green Card Lottery, and chain immigration. All the policies that Trump and his administration upheld supported these pillars of immigration changes.

Restrictions On Legal Immigration System

Legal immigrants were required to have high income and medical insurance to reduce their dependence on government benefits of health, food, and housing. If a legal immigrant required Medicaid, food stamps, or housing from the government, they would be inadmissible to the country. 

This new law was to take effect from February 24, 2020.

Employment-based visa applicants were required to attend an in-person visa interview before being awarded the visa. Some green card applicants were also required to have a face-to-face interview as part of the application process. 

These policies were implemented through an Executive Order meant to “Protect The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” and were implemented ted from October 1, 2017.

The order did not target the following groups of immigrants:

  • Immigrants who had lawful permanent residence status
  • Foreigners seeking visas based on research work or as a health worker and their families
  • Foreign investors
  • Spouses and children of a U.S. citizen
  • Foreigners of national interest who will improve on the U.S. law enforcement
  • U.S. military service members and their families

Cuts On Green Cards Given On Family-Based Applications

In the 2016 fiscal year, President Trump proposed eliminating applicants awaiting approval of green cards to immigrants with family-based applications. In the same proposal, the president sought to eliminate the diversity visa lottery to prioritize other visa applications, such as employment-based visa applications.

State Department Of Homeland Security Border Wall System

The Mexican wall is perhaps the signature policy of Trump’s administration on U.S. immigration. As part of the border security changes and financing, this wall was constructed to stop the smuggling of drugs and other illegal items into the U.S., and the unlawful crossing of Mexicans and other foreigners into America.

The DHS and CBP would have control of the U.S-Mexican border entry points with the border wall system established with the building of the Mexican wall.

Asylum In The U.S During Trump Administration

The Immigration and Nationality Act 1965 allowed foreign nationals who entered the United States through any port of entry, designated or not, to seek asylum in the United States. According to Former President Trump, this law was abused, allowing illegal and undocumented immigrants into the country. A few stringent laws were applied during his administration to discourage foreign nationals from seeking asylum in the United States.

President Trump used Executive actions to tighten laws for foreign nationals seeking asylum in the United States. Here are some of the U.S. immigration policies that his administration enacted during his tenure.

Asylum Ban

The International Humanitarian Law and the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act allowed people fleeing from their home countries to seek protection in the US. The policy targeted foreigners fleeing from prosecution based on various factors such as political opinion, race, religion, association with a social group, or nationality. Trump, however, mentioned that some of these reasons were not enough to seek asylum in the US.

If an immigrant sought protection due to a family member’s threats, their claims did not add up to sufficient proof of fear of prosecution. If an immigrant sought protection based on being a victim of domestic violence or gang violence, they would not qualify for asylum under the new policy.

Applicants with criminal records or allegations of crime were also not eligible for protection under Trump’s immigration asylum policies.

The asylum ban denied asylum for such immigrants. 

Additionally, the policy terminated the Temporary Protected Status for thousands of asylees in the U.S. The rule came into effect in November 2018. To counter the claims of disregarding international law, the Trump administration gave foreigners an option to seek alternative status other than asylum. The alternatives had little benefits compared to asylum and required a lot of immigration paperwork.

Safe Third Country Agreement

The Trump presidency banned foreigners who entered the U.S. through any port of entry from seeking asylum if they had passed through another country. Many people were fleeing Central America due to war and were looking to settle in the US around that time.

The new policy required that the immigrants must have unsuccessfully sought asylum in Guatemala, Mexico, or any other country before they could be considered eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S. If the immigrants did not have proof of unsuccessful asylum in those countries, they would be inadmissible on the grounds of lack of sufficient evidence as proof of fear of prosecution in the home countries.

Asylum is regarded as humanitarian immigration and is also a legal right for foreign nationals. However, Trump viewed it as a dangerous loophole that allowed undeserving people to enter the U.S.

The ‘Remain In Mexico Policy’

Another rule by the Trump administration required that asylees from Central America go back to Mexico after filing their petition for an indefinite period as they await their results. This policy was widely criticized for putting asylum seekers in more danger and disregarding international humanitarian law. Despite the criticism, the United States Supreme Court upheld the new rule. Many asylum seekers were sent to Mexico, where they had little access to legal help regarding their claims.

Read More | How Mexicans Can Get a Green Card

Reduction Of Critical Benefits For Asylum Seekers

The new rules did not allow asylees to work under one year of seeking asylum. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would not issue work permits to such immigrants after the initial 150 days of waiting. The new waiting time for a work permit was at least 1 year since seeking protection in the U.S.

Asylees also had to wait for more than the usual 30 days (employment authorization processing time) before getting the work permit after applying. 

Cutting Down Welfare Benefits For Immigrants

President Donald Trump also enacted policies to ensure that immigrants do not receive any government welfare benefits for at least five years while living in the US. This law has existed since 1996, but there were some exceptions. 

If an immigrant was dependent on government welfare, such as medical aid, within the first five years, the person was considered a public charge, hence inadmissible to the country. Within the first five years, if immigrants sought any immunization or health care treatment for health issues that would stop the spread of a disease, they would be deported back to their country.

Any undocumented immigrant would also not benefit from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, or Medicaid. These benefits were only available for U.S. citizens and Permanent Residents.

Termination Of The DACA Program

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows illegal immigrants, who entered the US as minors, to postpone their deportation by a two-year renewable period. They are allowed to work in the U.S. after the renewal of the program. The DACA program beneficiaries receive a work permit, a social security number, and pay taxes to the U.S. government. DACA beneficiaries, however, do not become citizens through the program.

In January 2018, Trump used another Executive order to do away with the DACA program, and in its place, he introduced a 10-12 years path to citizenship program. About 1.8 million people who illegally entered the U.S. as children were said to benefit from this program.

Ending Work Authorization for DREAMers

The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act commonly referred to as the DREAM Act, provided temporary residency to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors, allowing them to work and, if eligible later, attain permanent residence status. The Supreme Court ruled against ending this program due to its projected negative impact on the economy.

Unaccompanied Alien Children

While making a State Union Address, Mr. Trump said that gang members were taking advantage of the loopholes in the law to enter the US as foreign born minors. He enacted policies that restricted help and legal protection for unaccompanied children, minors deportation guidelines, and ending funding of programs that supported these minors to attain legal protection.

Imposed Travel Ban For Some Countries

In January of 2017, another Executive order was issued by Former President Donald Trump restricting travel from eight Muslim majority countries and Syrian refugees into America. The order was dismissed by a federal judge for being unconstitutional; however, the Supreme Court upheld a revised version of the order in March 2017. The travel ban was imposed on the following countries:

  • Somalia
  • Chad
  • Libya
  • North Korea 
  • Iran
  • Venezuela
  • Syria
  • Yemen

The travel ban had exceptions for travelers from the listed countries, for example, adoptees, persons in need of medical attention, and children. Iran travelers were allowed on student visas and visitor exchange programs while restricting immigrants, business, and tourist visas, like the rest of the countries. Venezuela’s travel ban was also imposed on government officials and their families.

In January 2020, an additional six countries were banned from seeking immigrant visas in the U.S. They included Tanzania, Sudan, Nigeria, Eritrea, Myanmar, and Kyrgystan.

Cutting Down On The Number Of Refugees

The Department of Homeland Security once again made changes to another legal immigration policy through an executive order that restricted the admission of refugees into the country for 120 days after application unless they were already scheduled to travel. Within the 120 day timeframe, the DHS and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency were tasked with scrutinizing the applications for any identifiable risks such as terrorism. Also, 11 countries were banned from sending refugees to the U.S. because of the risks and threats they supposedly posed to national security. Some of these countries were: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.

Changes On The H 1B Work Visa

In 2017, the DHS was tasked to review the HB-1 visa to effect some changes recommended by President Trump during his term. The work visa changes increased the eligibility restrictions of applicants and increased the wages to closely match that of U.S. citizen employees. To be eligible, the applicant must have had at least a bachelor’s degree and that the job itself required a unique set of skills that were not readily available in the US job market.

Most foreign companies that operate in the U.S. employ workers from abroad at cheaper pay. The changes were meant to reduce the number of immigrant employees in order to make jobs available for U.S. citizens. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, work visa applications were suspended from March 2020 until September of the same year. 

Read more: Biden Immigration Plan


  • Commit To Citizenship Staff

    Commit To Citizenship‘s team consists of individuals who have successfully immigrated to the United States and have learned how to avoid common mistakes in filling out immigration applications. Our team works closely with immigration lawyers to ensure that all content provided on our website is up-to-date and accurate. We offer guidance on a range of immigration topics, including green cards, diversity visas, and DACA.