Almost 800 people tuned in Thursday afternoon to hear Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr B.A. ’77, J.D. ’81, law, break down the current administration’s rising restrictions against immigration.
The event, titled “Our Broken Immigration System: and How to Fix It,” discussed the workings of the United States immigration system and possible solutions to existing problems.
According to Yale-Loehr, several issues plague the immigration system, including backlogs of applications that span decades, differences in views between immigration agencies and a ratio of cases to immigration judges that is over 2,000 to one.
Although Congress has introduced immigration bills every year, none have created any tangible reform, Yale-Loehr said, adding that the upcoming presidential election will likely stall any major immigration bills from being considered.
The U.S. has the largest immigration system in the world — according to the 2010 census, 12.9 percent of the population is foreign-born. The majority of the foreign-born population is from Latin America and Asia, and 68 percent of those above 25 have at least a high school degree.
Yale-Loehr said the Trump administration has made more than 400 changes to immigration law and policy, including issuing four executive orders since March of this year that temporarily halt legal immigration by suspending refugee resettlement, banning asylum seekers, suspending certain types of permanent immigration from abroad, and suspending visa appointments.
The Trump administration has increased enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border by increasing border patrol, as well as domestically by targeting undocumented immigrants.
According to Yale-Loehr, under the Trump administration, the number of undocumented immigrants who have been arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has increased 41 percent.
Employer audits and worksite raids have also increased under the current administration, targeting places such as convenience stores and farms.
In addition to issuing travel bans, President Trump has also lowered the annual cap on refugee admissions and issued directorates that have restricted the number of people granted asylum.
“Prior administrations have struggled with issues surrounding illegal entry to the United States,” Yale-Loehr said, “but President Trump is taking immigration detention to a whole new level and is separating children from their parents.”
In addition to cracking down on illegal immigration, the Trump administration has previously proposed restricting legal immigration, pushing to end the diversity visa lottery, ending several family-sponsored green card categories and spending $25 billion to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Despite a hard line approach to immigration policy, the administration also proposes legalizing up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants.
According to Yale-Loehr, these changes would cut the number of legal immigrants in the country by up to 44 percent — the largest legal immigration cut since the 1920s.
“President Trump has not persuaded Congress to build a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Yale-Loehr said. “He has effectively created an invisible wall to restrict legal immigration.”
Trump has also proposed moving to a merit-based immigration system, where immigrants would be scored, according to factors such as their age or education, and evaluated based on the number of points they are allotted.
Yale-Loehr proposed three essential steps, comparing them to legs of a stool, that the federal government could take to fix the immigration system, which he called the “three Es” — expanded visas, earned legalization and enforcement.
These solutions would involve creating temporary visas that address the country’s work needs while reducing the backlog of permanent visas, offering a realistic and fair opportunity to undocumented immigrants to obtain green cards, and having smarter U.S. border and interior enforcement.
“We need border enforcement that focuses on real security threats like smugglers and traffickers,” Yale-Loehr said, “not people who deliver pizza or farmworkers.”
To change the system, Yale-Loehr encouraged voters to educate themselves and those around them, and support comprehensive immigration reform by writing to their members of Congress.
He also suggested that they look for immigration volunteer opportunities and contribute to immigrants rights organizations and bond funds.
Yale-Loehr is the co-author of several books, including Green Card Stories; America’s Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties and National Unity After September 11, which he drew anecdotes from throughout his speech.