• George Farag

10 Questions To Frame Immigration in 2020

Immigration policy is problematic and divisive. There are no easy answers. Rethinking America’s immigration system has been a central theme of Donald Trump’s first term. The 2020 election will be an indicator of how Americans think he's doing.

Happy New Year! As we enter the roaring twenties (2.0) the U.S. Presidential Elections will undoubtedly take center stage. Once the dust of impeachment has settled, immigration will dominate the news and political conversation as presidential candidates offer their vision for America.

The following are ten issues/questions to help you frame the immigration debate in the coming year:


The Obama Administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (#DACA) program in 2012. The program protects undocumented immigrants brought to America as children from deportation. It also grants these “dreamers” work permits. More than 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been approved for DACA. But there are an estimated 3.6 million total dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Most Democrats, and some Republicans, want to put DACA recipients on a path to citizenship. But some Republicans oppose granting dreamers permanent protections because they should not have been here in the first place.

In 2017 President Trump attempted to end the DACA program. Federal courts blocked his actions. Currently the Justice Department is appealing those rulings. That means the program continues, but the Supreme Court will take up the case in 2020.

Will the DACA program continue or will the dreamers face deportation in 2020?

2. Temporary Protected Status

The Temporary Protected Status (#TPS) program allows more than 400,000 foreigners to legally live and work in the U.S. while their home countries recover from natural disasters and armed conflicts. Most TPS recipients have lived in the U.S. for more than two decades. The countries that are currently on the TPS list are:

The Trump administration has sought to end the TSP program. Republicans say the program was always intended to be temporary and needs to end. They believe most of the countries on the TPS list have recovered and are ready to handle the return of their citizens.

But most Democrats, and some Republicans, want to put TSP recipients on a path to citizenship. They think it’s unfair to force them to return to their home countries after establishing their lives in the U.S.

Federal courts have blocked Trump from ending those protections. But the Justice Department is appealing and the case could end up before the Supreme Court in 2020.

Will the TSP program be eliminated and what will happen to the 400,000 TPS recipients already in the program?

3. Eleven million undocumented immigrants

The debate rages on over the fate of 11 million #undocumentedimmigrants living and working in the U.S. Democrats have pushed for a pathway to citizenship that includes criminal background checks, payment of back taxes, and other requirements.

Many Republicans have called any pathway to citizenship plan as an amnesty. This would unfairly reward people who came to the U.S. illegally and violated U.S. laws. It will also encourage others to do the same.

Will 11 million illegal immigrants receive a pathway to citizenship or will the citizenship door be shut on them?

4. Merit-based immigration

The United States approves about 1.1 million immigrant visas each year. The majority of these are given to foreigners with family in America. Only about 12% go to foreigners with skills and ability that will contribute to the U.S. economy.

Trump wants to flip this. He is advocating to base immigration policy on merit. In a #meritbased immigration system immigrant visas would be issued based on a points system. It rewards applicants for their education, English proficiency, experience, job offers, and other qualifications.

The president believes that a system that favors applicants with desirable job skills would shift legal immigration’s focus from being centered on the needs of immigrants to being focused on the needs of the American people and economy.

Democrats claim such a change would prevent low-income and low-skilled immigrants from coming to America. This would alter America's identity of welcoming the tired, poor, huddled masses that Emma Lazarus wrote about in her poem affixed to the Statute of Liberty.

Should we do away with the family-based immigration system in favor of a merit-based system?

5. Family separation

In 2018 the Trump administration's adopted a "zero tolerance" policy on illegal crossing of the southern border. It intended to ramp-up criminal prosecution of people caught entering the United States illegally. Illegal immigrant parents traveling with their children were being criminally prosecuted and separated from their children. Nearly 3,000 children were separated from their parents.

In June 2019 President Trump signed an executive order to stop family separation while maintaining the “zero-tolerance” policy. Family separations has ended, but Border Patrol agents continue to face situations where families must be separated.

What will congress do to amend the laws that allow/require family separation?

6. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

While the situation along the southern border has received most of the attention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (#ICE) agents have been arresting illegal immigrants inside the U.S.

Under the Obama Administration, ICE agents were directed to target mostly undocumented immigrants with criminal records. But Trump is allowing ICE agents to arrest immigrants who are undocumented regardless a criminal record.

Republicans have primarily defended Trump's actions. They argue that all undocumented immigrants have essentially broken immigration law and should not be immune from deportation.Democrats have criticized that enforcement strategy, with some even calling for ICE to be abolished.

Will reforms be made to the organizational structure and jurisdiction of ICE?

7. Sanctuary Cities

"#Sanctuarycities," is a term used to describe city, county and state governments that do not fully comply with federal immigration efforts. For example, some jurisdictions don’t want to hold suspected criminals while ICE determines if they need to be apprehended for immigration violations.

The Trump administration has tried to encourage local governments to comply with federal efforts. The administration argues that a lack of coordination on the federal local levels endanger American citizens since dangerous undocumented immigrants are released into communities.

Officials in sanctuary cities believe that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility. Local police cannot be responsible to act as immigration agents. This would lead immigrants to distrust local police officers. They also say that it’s illegal to hold suspects without proper probable cause.

How will the federal government respond to sanctuary city policies?

8. Asylum and Refugees

#Asylum and #refugee status are granted to foreigners who fear persecution in their home country based on their religion, race, sexual orientation, political opinion or membership in a social group. The main difference is that refugees make their request while living abroad and asylum seekers make their request after arriving in the U.S.

The Trump Administration has claimed that both systems are susceptible to fraud and abuse by terrorists. The administration took actions to limit each program. For example they instituted the controversial travel ban that temporarily shut down the refugee program. They also implemented policies to limit asylum along the southern border. Federal judges have blocked several of these policies.

The opposition says that closing America's doors to vulnerable populations destroys the ideal of the U.S. as a beacon of hope for oppressed people of the world.

Will asylum laws be reformed to handle the record numbers of Central American families that are coming to America?

9. Migrants in Detention

Record numbers of migrants are crossing the southern border. Border Patrol stations and ICE detention centers are strained to house and care for them all. In 2019, eight people died while in ICE custody including children.

The Department of Homeland Security requested $1 billion from Congress to improve conditions for migrants and for medical screening of arriving children. The Trump administration says the situation won't improve until Congress changes U.S. asylum laws.

Will Congress take action on refugee and asylum laws to improve treatment of migrants and reduce vulnerability to fraud?

10. Aid to Central America

Most migrants are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The U.S. has sent hundreds of millions of dollars a year in foreign aid to help those countries improve their security, economic and judicial systems. The goal is to improve living conditions and inspire citizens to stay in their country.

But in 2019 President Trump stopped payment off $450 million to those countries. He believes that their governments were stealing the money and not doing enough to stop their citizens from migrating. Democrats, and some Republicans, say cutting off funding will create more poverty in these countries and force more migrants to come to America.

What should the foreign aid strategy be for these Central American to reduce the number of people migrating to the U.S.?

Immigration policy is problematic and divisive. There are no easy answers to these complicated questions. Rethinking America’s immigration system has been a central theme of Donald Trump’s first term. The 2020 election will be an indicator of how Americans think he's doing.