GREGORY BULL | Associated Press
A man, who said he was from Chiapas, Mexico, is detained by Border Patrol officials in San Diego after breaching border fencing separating San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 26, 2017.

Donald Trump’s immigration promises

How he shook the system in his first year

Donald Trump guaranteed his voters a dramatic reshaping of the nation’s immigration system from the first day of his campaign, denouncing Mexicans as “murderers” and “rapists” and vowing to build a southern border wall.

In the broadest of strokes, Trump is making good on his tough rhetoric. He flexed executive muscle where he could on enforcement, delivering substantial changes for immigrants and their families; refugees; and nationals of several Muslim countries.

Some results are less grandiose than he promised.

The courts stymied his efforts to rescind President Barack Obama’s deportation protection program and restrict travelers from certain countries. A broader pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the United States never materialized.

And his pledge to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it seems destined for compromise.

Trump has already managed to set a new tone. But he will have to work with Congress to create laws that leave a legacy.


JOSH HANER | New York Times
Eight border wall prototypes stand on the U.S.-Mexico border in Otay Mesa, Calif., Oct. 30, 2017. Christof Büchel, a Swiss-Icelandic artist, has proposed the group of eight prototypes, which were built at a cost of $3.3 million in federal funds, be protected as a national monument.

Prototypes for border wall are up, but no funding from Congress (or Mexico)

Trump continued to move on his vision of an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” border wall. Eight prototypes are standing in San Diego, Calif., awaiting judgment from his administration about how to move forward.

But keeping this promise requires cash.

Mexico refuses to pay. Republican lawmakers are still figuring out how to cover the costs.

The trends, however, show Trump is making good on his promises without active construction of a border wall.

Illegal border crossings continued to fall, reaching the lowest point in fiscal year 2017 since 1971. The Trump administration said low apprehension numbers possibly reflect “an increased deterrent effect” from its “stronger interior enforcement efforts."

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement arrests in the interior of the country for civil violations of immigration laws increased 30 percent from fiscal years 2016 to 2017.

"My sense is that (Trump’s) rhetoric probably did scare off people, and more than just the rhetoric, also the heavy handedness of immigration enforcement policies in the United States," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

That said, border apprehensions have been on a downward trend for a long time, Felbab-Brown said. In the 1980s, there was an average of 1 million border patrol apprehensions a year at the southwest border. During the Obama administration, the average was below 500,000.

Trump has made some concessions on the vision already, saying it won’t span the nearly 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border. It may even be “see-through,” Trump said, and “there could be some fencing.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen — who replaced John Kelly, Trump’s second White House chief of staff — affirmed in her November Senate confirmation hearing that a border wall wouldn’t run “from sea to shining sea.”

As matters stand, Trump’s promise to build a border wall rates In the Works.


ELAINE CROMIE | Detroit Free Press via AP
Khulud Fidama, 26, of Dearborn, Mich., stands with her family outside the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Jan. 29, 2017, to speak against President Donald Trump's travel ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations.

Promised ‘travel ban’ policy sees revisions, court battles

Trump early in his administration, citing national security concerns, signed an executive order to restrict the entry of all refugees and nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

What’s under enforcement now is a more tailored, country-specific directive due to lawsuits claiming constitutional violations and discrimination against Muslims. (It’s a dramatic adjustment from his December 2015 call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims’ entry, rated Stalled.)

The Trump administration has been "tinkering with the margins to find some legal viability," Brookings’ Felbab-Brown said.

The initial order temporarily halted the entry of nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen; temporarily suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and indefinitely halted the entry of Syrian refugees.

A revision in March dropped Iraq from the list of banned countries and did not single out Syrian refugees. In September, as the March order neared expiration, Trump signed a proclamation with categorized entry restrictions for individuals from Chad, Yemen, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Iran and Somalia.

The administration said the restrictions were based on foreign governments’ inability to provide information needed to vet potential entrants, and that they would be lifted once countries complied.

Refugee admission resumed under enhanced vetting, officials said.

Despite lawsuits against the proclamation, the U.S. Supreme Court in December allowed its implementation pending resolution in lower courts. For that reason, we rate his promise to suspend immigration from terror-prone places as In the Works.


CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times
Mariana Sanchez Ramirez, 23, who was born in Torreon in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, traveled with her family to the United States on a tourist visa in 2000. She was able to stay in the U.S. and attended college after President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in June of 2012.

‘Dreamers,’ protected immigrants in limbo after Trump actions

Trump criticized as “unconstitutional” Obama administration programs protecting from deportation young immigrants often called “Dreamers,” and the parents of children with green cards or who were born in the United States.

His administration has rescinded both programs: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which never went into effect due to court challenges during the Obama administration, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protected Dreamers from deportation.

Administration officials had said current beneficiaries would not be impacted before March 5, 2018, giving Congress time to pass a legislative solution. A federal judge in January ordered the administration to resume accepting renewal applications, but did not require the processing of new applications.

At times, Trump has indicated he wants to help Dreamers. But also has warned that without funds for his border wall and support for other immigration policy changes, “there can be no DACA.

“The White House itself has been very conflicted and ambivalent in what messages it sends about it,” Felbab-Brown said. “That's very much a work in progress.”

Thousands of Dreamers remain protected under DACA — at least until their permits expire or Congress passes a bill to benefit them. Amid the uncertainty, Trump’s promise to terminate the programs rates In the Works.

The deferred action debate is part of the administration’s overall approach: All individuals in the country illegally are prioritized for removal, even if not convicted of crimes. No exceptions.

Trump ended Temporary Protected Status designations for nationals of El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua, which prevented the deportation of roughly 328,000 people from those three countries.

The U.S. government designates Temporary Protected Status to countries with conditions that prevent the safe return of their nationals; such as a natural disaster or civil war. Immigrants already in the United States illegally and individuals on a valid nonimmigrant visa may apply for Temporary Protected Status if they meet certain criteria.

Beneficiaries from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua must now prepare to leave the country or find a way to adjust their immigration status to be allowed to stay.

Trump’s promise to deport all undocumented immigrants rates In the Works.


Gregory Bull | AP Photo
Cars pass a sign in San Diego alerting motorists to watch for people crossing Interstate 5 just north of the border with Tijuana, Mexico. The iconic sign, one of many erected during the early 1990s when illegal immigration numbers surged in the region, is now the last of its kind.

Legal immigration changes target refugees, family-based system

As part of his “America First” agenda, Trump promised to prioritize American workers by limiting the number of people who legally come to the United States.

One way he plans to achieve that is by admitting no more than 45,000 refugees in fiscal year 2018. That’s a significant drop from the 110,000 cap set for fiscal year 2017 by his predecessor.

Trump also supports a far-ranging Senate bill seeking a merit-based immigration system; an end to a family reunification option that allows lawful permanent residents to petition grown adult family members and extended family members; and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery that admits up to 50,000 immigrants per fiscal year.

Based on the low refugee cap and pending bills, Trump’s pledge to limit legal immigration is In the Works.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in July 2017 to federal, state and local law enforcement officials about sanctuary cities and efforts to combat violent crime. The Justice Department escalated its promised crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” saying it will no longer give cities coveted grant money unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

Order on ‘sanctuary cities’ challenged, but it has lawmakers’ support

Trump signed an executive order in January seeking to withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that “fail to comply with applicable federal law,” which he contends is what “sanctuary cities” do.

Once again, the courts blocked his attempt at a delivered promise.

A federal judge in November issued a permanent injunction on his order, writing that “federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.”

Trump may have better luck with a more specific directive. He might also achieve it with legislative help.

Republican lawmakers have unveiled multiple bills to advance Trump’s promise, such as the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, which passed the House in June largely along party lines. States or political subdivisions of states that do not comply with provisions in the bill would be barred from certain federal grants.

Given the legislative push, Trump’s promise to cut federal funds to sanctuary cities rates In the Works.


Protesters hold up signs in San Francisco in April 2017 where a federal judge was to hear arguments in the first lawsuit challenging an executive order to withhold funding from communities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities.

Looking ahead

Trump has already changed the lives of many immigrants in the United States, and he’s intent on keeping more away.

The Dreamers might receive a different outcome, because Trump has tied a Democratic push to protect them from deportation to funding for his border wall.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, is skeptical a deal on deferred action can be reached in 2018.

“Congress rarely passes big immigration laws in election years,” he said.

Trump’s presidency has already resurrected the debate on legal immigration, particularly on who may come to the United States and how many, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports low levels of immigration.

“Thanks to Trump, we are having this conversation,” Camarota said.

Additional credits

  • Editor Katie Sanders and Angie Drobnic Holan
  • Photo editor Chris Urso
  • Story design Lyra Solochek and Lauren Flannery