Foreign Policy Priorities:

Immigration has been a flashpoint of the U.S. political debate for decades. Efforts at comprehensive immigration reform have repeatedly foundered in Congress due to disagreement over creating a path to citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented residents of the United States, many of whom are from Mexico and Central America.

Legislative inaction has moved immigration policy largely into the realm of executive action. President Barack Obama issued executive orders to shield some groups from deportation, including undocumented residents brought to the country as children, even as his administration deported record numbers of people. Since 2017, President Donald J. Trump has set out to use executive orders and other means to overhaul all aspects of immigration policy. 

Trump has framed the situation at the southern border as a national emergency, issuing harsh invective against refugees and asylum seekers and shutting down the federal government over immigration negotiations. Some of his promises to take extraordinary measures, including building out the border wall with Mexico and deporting millions, haven’t yet materialized. But he has pressed ahead with others, such as banning residents of certain countries from entering the United States and slashing refugee admissions. Many of these moves have been challenged in federal courts, leaving swaths of immigration policy in legal limbo. 

Chief among those areas of uncertainty is the U.S. asylum system, which is under unprecedented stress as record numbers of people from Central America have arrived at the U.S. southern border seeking protection. Trump has upended decades of bipartisan consensus on welcoming refugees by opening new detention centers, separating children from their parents and guardians, and seeking to send asylum seekers to other countries. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, champions immigration, vows to protect asylum seekers, and promises to reverse many of Trump’s policies.

More On Immigration

Refugees and Displaced Persons

The United States has long been a safe haven for refugees from around the world. President Biden is working to expand the country’s resettlement program after the Trump administration made sharp cuts.

United States

Comprehensive immigration reform has eluded Congress for years. With border crossings at a record high, how are policymakers responding?

United States

President Joe Biden’s attempts to grapple with a record number of migrants are keeping the role of border enforcement at the center of the U.S. immigration debate.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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