A month before the election, the Trump lockdown against any and all immigrants is intensifying. The Trump administration has unleashed a rush of regulations to restrict student visas, especially for students from non-white, non-Christian majority countries. It is accelerating border wall building. It has proposed an offensively low ceiling of 15,000 refugee admissions in 2021 and has also been flirting with an illegal refusal to provide Congress with numbers for refugee admissions next year, which would effectively lock all refugees out of the United States. And it has indicated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is about to launch a series of raids in sanctuary cities in coming weeks.
The new rules regarding students, unveiled by the Department of Homeland Security last week, are particularly shocking. They limit to two years the kind of visa that students from dozens of countries can receive — meaning they cannot complete a four-year university degree (or at least have to reapply, with no guarantee of success, for a visa halfway through their studies), or enroll in graduate programs.
Under these news rules, most countries in Africa, many in the Middle East and a number in Asia are impacted. It is, in short, a document that, in all but title, vastly privileges admissions from white-majority countries and vastly discriminates against the world’s non-white majority.
This comes hard on the heels of an ill-fated proposal at the height of the pandemic earlier this year to deprive international students of visas, and open up students already here to deportation if their classes, usually held in person, continue to be held online as a public health measure. That proposal received so much pushback from universities and from the business community that it was quickly shelved.
When it comes to cruel immigration policies, the Trump administration never takes the consensus path for long, however. As the election nears, it is ramping up its all-out assault on immigration policy.
This week, in perhaps the most shameful of its rash of shameful actions on immigration over the past year, the Trump administration came within minutes of not meeting its legal requirement to inform Congress of the refugee admissions cap that, by law, the president is required to present to Congress each year. Religious groups and refugee resettlement agencies had pleaded with the administration in recent weeks to increase the cap, since it has been slashed by more than 80 percent during the Trump era, despite surging numbers of refugees around the world needing resettlement away from conflict zones. We already admit a shockingly low number of refugees — and, since March, the program has essentially been in a deep freeze. Now, the assault on refugee admissions is continuing apace.
In almost missing the deadline to comply with providing a refugee admissions cap earlier this week, Trump was embracing a strategy of destruction-by-neglect that his hardline adviser Stephen Miller has long argued for: Starve the entire refugee admissions system of oxygen simply by refusing to provide Congress with a number. By default, in the absence of a policy proposal from the administration, that number would have reverted to zero in the year 2021. In the end, they didn’t go quite that far but instead proposed reducing the cap to 15,000 — nearly 90 percent lower than what it was when President Obama left office. And even that doesn’t tell the full story: Trump hasn’t yet signed the new presidential directive, and until — or unless — he does, refugee admissions remain frozen at zero.
The news has gotten scant attention, buried amid the news about Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Trump’s tax returns, and the analyses of the shocking tactics and message that Trump embraced in the first presidential “debate.” But, sit back for a moment and think about the stunning moral implications of this: The United States, which has resettled millions of refugees since World War II, has, with almost no public discussion of the issue, simply locked its doors to virtually everyone fleeing war and persecution. As a result, it’s indisputable that large numbers of refugees will die, and that additional large numbers will spend years and years desperately impoverished and living in miserable refugee camps.
The refugee resettlement infrastructure in the U.S. took decades to build; it is now, in a matter of four short years, being virtually dismantled. As the number of admissions continues to plummet, so offices in cities around the country will shutter, staff and volunteers who have spent decades helping people resettle from countries as far afield as Bosnia, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Syria and Russia, to name just a few, will no longer be able to put their skills to use making refugees’ lives better in the New World.
The politics of exclusion and of lockdown aren’t limited to refugees. All along the southern border with Mexico, contractors are working feverishly to complete mile upon mile of Trump’s much-touted Great Wall, to keep out would-be-asylum-seekers. According to The Washington Post, the pace has now picked up to the point that contractors, being paid with money diverted from other government spending programs, are now completing two miles per day, at a staggering cost of $41 million per mile. In the process, they are dynamiting and bulldozing their way through fragile ecosystems and sacred sites for local Native American communities.
As for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., ICE is apparently planning a series of high-profile raids, clearly intended to escalate political tensions in the run-up to the election in sanctuary cities, especially in California. And in a ghastly propaganda stunt that comes perilously close to an incitement to vigilantism, the Trump administration is also considering plastering some cities with billboards identifying “immigration violators” by name and face, essentially turning these people into versions of “America’s Most Wanted” at a time when far right vigilantism is on the rise.
Of course, if they are then subsequently detained and incarcerated in the growing network of detention centers and camps in which ICE prisoners are held, don’t expect conditions to be anything other than brutal. A couple weeks back, a scandal broke, involving allegations that women held in a facility in Georgia were subjected to hysterectomies and other sterilization procedures without their informed consent. In recent days, more details have emerged, pointing to the inescapable conclusion that many people were indeed operated on entirely needlessly. There are in this story horrific echoes of the U.S.’s eugenicist past, as well as of medical experiments and practices implemented against concentration camp prisoners by the Nazis.
The U.S. immigration system was already often violent and brutal and unfair prior to Trump’s tenure in office; it is, now, infinitely worse. By the back door, in these last days before the election, Team Trump is aggressively using regulatory changes to put up a “Whites Only” sign at the U.S.’s entrance, and it is rushing to complete hundreds of miles of border wall that will scar the land for years to come.