Issues of Immigration in the 2020 Election (January)

In January, 2020 the Rights Writers were asked to discuss an issue in the context of US political discourse (including public opinion, if desired) – is any relevant legislation being debated? How are different branches of US government engaged with your topic? Consider particularly the 2020 presidential race.

Within the United States there are an estimated 11 million undocumented and close to 700,000 DACA individuals. Worldwide, more than 70 million people are displaced either as refugees, asylum-seekers, or internally displaced persons (IDP). Prior to the 2016 election, the United States accepted more refugees than every other country combined. The cap has since been reduced from 110,000 to 18,000 refugees per year. As a global leader, the attitude the U.S. adopts towards these migrants has ripple-effects on the policies of other countries around the world and immediately impacts people both inside and outside the country.    

In 2018, Texas resettled more refugees than any other state. This year, it became the first state to ban refugees under Trump’s recent executive order that allows states to opt-out of resettling refugees. Although some municipalities and organizations throughout the state are trying to push back against the governor’s decision, Governor Abbott believes that Texas has done “more than its share”. North Carolina is also among the top ten refugee resettlement states, but it has had quite a different response. Governor Cooper submitted a letter to the president in December acknowledging his intention to continue to resettle refugees in North Carolina. Durham, in particular, serves a large refugee population. Many organizations in and around Durham support both refugees and undocumented immigrants including World Relief Durham, Church World Service, Pupusas for Education, and even Duke University which has mentoring and tutoring programs for refugees. Within Duke’s student population there are also a number of undocumented and DACA students. There is also the Define American chapter at Duke which seeks to spread awareness and advocate for undocumented and DACA students and families within Durham. The University is also adopting a new policy beginning with the students entering Fall 2020, where undocumented and DACA applicants will be accepted on a need-blind basis as it does with all other domestic students. These populations are an integral part of both the Duke community and Durham as a whole and will be especially impacted by the election this year.

Chart of Democratic Stances on Immigration
Candidate images and source data from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/policy-2020/immigration/

A new president alone will not provide a lasting solution unless new legislation passes through Congress. Both Obama’s implementation of DACA and Trump’s halt to DACA were executive orders. Because of the nature of executive orders not being approved by Congress and being easily revoked by a later president, the chances of a more permanent solution are slight unless we have a more unified government. So, although the 2020 presidential election will impact millions of people, it is unlikely to produce long-term changes alone. For people living in this uncertainty, however, the actions of a new president, regardless of permanency, are still pressing. For instance, when Obama initiated DACA, it allowed those who qualified to apply for work permits and driver’s licenses, opening doors to many new opportunities. When Trump repealed DACA and stopped accepting new applications, those who were too young to apply during the Obama era suddenly couldn’t receive those benefits. They are unable to secure work legally and have no protection against deportation.

If President Trump is re-elected, he would most likely continue to pursue increased border wall funding, the removal of DACA, and a low refugee cap in his 2020 “Keep America Great” Campaign. The stances of the Democratic candidates, on the other hand, are outlined below:   

In addition to the election, 2020 is also supposed to bring a decision from the Supreme Court about DACA later this spring. The conservative majority may lean towards supporting the repeal by President Trump but there is little other evidence that suggests a decision either way.

If the Court upholds the repeal of DACA and new legislation is not passed, the livelihoods of DACA students, many of whom are in college or recently graduated, could be threatened. Without DACA or some new legislation, they will not be able to renew their work permits and work legally in the United States anymore. Throughout the Obama and Trump administration, both have claimed to focus deportations mainly on convicted criminals. But where does that leave those who cannot apply to change their status but who are also unlikely to be deported? Without a long-term solution, their lives are in limbo. In addition to this uncertainty among undocumented and DACA individuals, many refugees are also concerned and speaking out in opposition to the recent executive order allowing states to refuse refugees since many have family members and friends still awaiting approval in insecure areas around the world.

Together, the Supreme Court decision plus the actions of Congress and the newly elected president have the potential to determine the fate of millions of people worldwide. But, of course, those are all influenced by public opinion and the votes of citizens.