How the Trump Administration uses the “Hidden Weapons” of Immigration Law.

In the first week of the Trump Presidency, the Administration issued a travel ban aimed at seven predominantly Muslim countries. The outcry was swift and immediate, with protesters showing up at airports and many Republicans criticizing the decision. In June, 2018, a third version of the ban was given a green light by a divided Supreme Court. (The first two versions had been blocked by lower courts.) Last month, the Administration extended the ban on immigrant visas to six more countries: Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tanzania. This time, there were no large nationwide protests, and no signs of unease from Republican politicians. The story hardly registered amid an impeachment trial and the Democratic primary campaign.

I recently spoke by phone with Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, about Trump’s increasing success in reshaping American immigration policy, from the travel bans to the crackdown on migrants trying to claim asylum at the Mexican border. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed why the security-based rationales for the travel ban aren’t sound, whether a Democratic President would be able to quickly reverse most of Trump’s changes, and the Remain in Mexico policy, which Reichlin-Melnick described as “a stain on the rule of law.”

American immigration history tends to be broken down by eras. When you look at immigration policy over the past three years, do you think we are in a new era?

I’m not sure it’s a new era, because much of what the Trump Administration has done has been to find the hidden weapons in existing immigration law and then use them to the full extent, which no one had ever imagined would ever be done. If anything, what we’re seeing now is the full extent of the last era of immigration, coming to its fruition. By that, I mean the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (I.I.R.I.R.A.). So much of what the Trump Administration has done is to take things created in that act that had never been used and use them. And I don’t know if we’re in a new era because it’s hard to say that all of these changes are going to stick. So it’s a little too early to say “era” yet, I hope.

By Isaac Chotiner for THE NEW YORKER
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