“Throughout the history of the U.S., we’ve had a series of tragic nativist chapters in our history,” Coons told me this week. “Did I think we’d be facing another one? No. But when Donald Trump announced his candidacy, I remember thinking I am so glad I live in a country where a man like this couldn’t be president. I was wrong, and we’ve seen how damaging that has been.”
In recent months, the novel coronavirus pandemic, the associated economic downturn, and protests over police killings of African Americans have diverted public attention from Trump’s immigration policies. But they must not be forgotten.
Trump’s plans for an immigration ban have inspired widespread outrage. Some dismissed Trump’s words as empty threats, noting that they were probably unconstitutional. But Trump pressed ahead as soon as he took office.
The first iteration of what became known as the Muslim ban halted entry into the United States of citizens from seven countries, five of which are majority-Muslim.
Since then we’ve watched as immigration officials have separated kids from their parents in detention centers, with at least one of them dying in custody. The images of children in cages provoked an intense backlash and could end up costing Trump at the polls — to the extent that his policies have led his own voters, especially college-educated white Republican women, to question his xenophobic and racist policies.
Yet that hasn’t stopped him. His latest move, announced on Tuesday, would exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the census, thus affecting how the lines for congressional districts are redrawn next year.
The No Ban Act had no Republican co-sponsors, but two GOP representatives broke ranks with the party and voted for the legislation.
“It’s disappointing that it’s been looked at through a political lens,” Farhana Khera, executive director of the organization Muslim Advocates, said of the ban. “It’s having an impact on people every single day. There are millions of Americans affected by this ban that are barred from being reunited with their families.”
Khera, who previously served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped to craft the No Ban Act legislation, which aims to restrict the president’s ability to use executive orders to limit the immigration of targeted groups.
The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to vote the bill into law, so it is likely to remain symbolic for now. But Coons says the legislation is necessary “to remove this moral stain on the United States.” He says that he intends to put the bill to a Senate vote before the end of the year — something that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) probably won’t allow to happen.
After the vote, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made clear where he stood on the issue. His approach could be described as the polar opposite of Trump’s:
Biden has pledged to work with Congress on new legislation aimed at reducing hate crimes and putting an end to religious and racial profiling by authorities. He has also vowed to have Muslims serve in his administration.
Trump’s policies have already caused chaos within the bureaucracies responsible for immigration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for issuing immigration documents, is funded almost entirely by the fees it receives from applicants petitioning for legal immigration status. Applications have plummeted because of the restrictive policies, leading to a sharp decline in revenue.
The pandemic, which has forced many staff members to stay home, has added to the damage. If Congress fails to come through with emergency funding, more than 13,000 members of the agency’s staff will be furloughed on Aug. 3. This will only add to an already massive backlog of more than 125,000 applications for permanent resident status from legal immigrants who are waiting for urgently needed documentation.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Trump administration’s plans include sabotaging the immigration system itself.
Fortunately, our elected representatives are now asserting their ability to change those policies. The Senate will soon have a chance to show the American public where it stands.