The State of US Immigration Policy and How to Improve It

The Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents as they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border captured national attention and sparked protests across the country. Combined with the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold Trump’s travel ban, this development has brought immigration policy back to the forefront of public debate. Brookings experts discuss the current state of immigration policy, and what the government could be doing to reform it.

Will tough immigration policy deter immigration?

Sarah Bermeo, associate professor at Duke University, wrote on the Future Development blog that migrants from Central America aren’t headed to the United States for economic opportunity. Instead, they’re fleeing violence. Bermeo explains that for people emigrating from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, “waiting for a visa can result in death, rape, or forcible recruitment into crime.” Bermeo argued that this failure to distinguish between economic refugees and those fleeing violence leads to ineffective policies and loss of life.

Brookings David M. Rubenstein Fellow Dany Bahar cleared up another misconception about refugees, noting that “not only are refugees not a burden, rather they are welfare-enhancing assets.” He demonstrated that refugees offer economic benefits such as increased rates of entrepreneurship, international trade, and global investment.

Family separation and its repercussions

In May 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would begin implementing a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which required that adults crossing the border illegally be criminally prosecuted. Because children cannot legally accompany their parents to jail, more than 2,000 children were separated from their parents and sent to confinement facilities.

On June 24, 2018, President Trump tweeted “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, Bring them back from where they came.” This apparent suggestion to eliminate due process for those crossing the border prompted David M. Rubenstein Fellow Andre Perry to write that Trump had revealed “zero-tolerance” for democracy. Perry held that Trump’s rhetoric “aims to sever brown immigrants and other people of color from the idea that we can be citizens, and he intends to split justice from democracy to justify his unpardonable actions.”

By Brennan Hoban for BROOKINGS
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