The election of Donald Trump to be President of the United States is clearly terrible news for immigrants, their loved ones, and all who want to live in a country that welcomes strangers and changes. What it means in practical terms is harder to predict. He will not become President until he’s inaugurated on January 20, 2017, just over two months from now. Nothing will happen tomorrow, but changes can begin as soon as his inauguration day. He can’t build a wall or deport 11 million people overnight, and we don’t yet know what he really wants to do, but it’s undoubtedly not going to be good for immigrants.
Trump has pledged to undo or end all executive actions signed by President Obama. These are actions that were not passed by our Congress. President Obama put them into effect with his pen, and a new President can undo them with his pen.
The most prominent is the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects so-called DREAMers (those who came to the U.S. as young children) from deportation for two years at a time, and allows them to work legally. There is little doubt Trump will end that program immediately, but it’s unclear if he’ll take away work permits and DACA status from those who already have it, or just end new applications, or what. There is really nothing you can do to protect yourself but you can make your voice heard in continuing efforts to grant legal status to DREAMers, who have much support from a majority of Americans.
Most immigration laws are passed by Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Republican Party also won majorities of both of those houses which means that President Trump will have an easier time passing completely new legislation to change our immigration laws. This will not happen overnight. We expect many politicians in both parties to object to the harshest measures but I am sure laws will change in major ways.
What can you do before January 20:
- Stop procrastinating. Immigration applications take a long time – some take months, years, or even decades. At least get started as soon as you can.
- If you have a green card and are eligible to apply for citizenship, do it. Even green card holders can be deported IF they commit a crime. Find the money, start studying for the English and civics tests, and get your applications in. Go to our information page on applying for naturalization.
- If you have a foreign sister, brother or adult child you’ve thought about sponsoring to immigrate, get your I-130 application in. It’s likely that at some point the laws will change and U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their foreign sisters and brothers to immigrate here. You’ll have a better chance the sooner you act. Also, fees for those applications are increasing on December 23.
- If you’re married to a U.S. citizen and are in the U.S. without a green card, find out if you’re eligible to apply to adjust status ASAP. If you don’t have lawful status now, you’re at risk.
- Immigrating through employment is a more complicated process. It’s likely the paths for U.S. employers to sponsor foreign employees will narrow. It’s the employer who takes action in this case.
What about birthright citizenship, which automatically grants citizenship to babies born on U.S. soil? Republicans have proposed getting rid of this provision, but it’s in the U.S. Constitution – the 14th Amendment. Changing the constitution is a much harder process. However, there are some who argue it does not require a constitutional amendment; one of those is Kris Kobach, who is one of Trump’s principal advisers, and has been the anti-immigrant force behind restrictive laws in various states. Most of those measures were thrown out by courts, but Trump will now also appoint a new Supreme Court justice immediately, and quite possibly more justices during his term, so this could change also.
Do you still want to immigrate to the U.S.? That’s a harder question only you can answer. Hillary Clinton actually got more votes than Donald Trump, but he will be President because of a very “rigged” and out-of-date system called the Electoral College. It’s going to be hard and long work to change it, along with many other changes our electoral system needs.
I don’t believe all the people who voted for Trump did so because of anti-immigrant prejudice, although many did. Immigration was his first and biggest issue. But many Americans are just tired of the same old Washington system that has refused to change, a system that has made life better and better for those at the top no matter who’s in charge. Those voters wanted to throw a Trump bomb into it to force change and they succeeded. It’s up to all of us to actively fight to make the U.S. a fair, just, democratic and welcoming home for all. America has gone through anti-immigrant periods and those periods ended. This too shall pass, but not without much pain, especially for immigrants.