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U.S. 2020: Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Immigration

Central American migrants. (AP)

July 17, 2020

Immigration is arguably the defining issue of the Donald Trump presidency. Although the coronavirus pandemic is the story of 2020, Trump's restrictive immigration policy preceded it and has even been a key aspect of his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump’s approach has entailed building a wall, stepping up efforts to criminalize border crossings, and creating hurdles to attaining visas and green cards. In mid-July, he pledged to sign an executive order to restructure the U.S. immigration system into a merit-based system “to prioritize the highest-skilled workers.”

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has positioned himself as the candidate to “undo Trump’s damage and reclaim America’s values” as a “nation of immigrants.” And since Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race in April, Biden joined forces to build a unity task force on immigration policy. That task force, along with five others covering issues such as criminal justice reform and the economy, laid out their policy recommendations in a 110-page document released July 8. Although the immigration task force largely endorsed Biden’s immigration plan, its members also pushed him to adopt some more progressive policies, such as abandoning the linkage between a pathway to citizenship and stricter border enforcement.

Here is where the presidential rivals stand on immigration.

Joe Biden

On the wall and border crossings

On deportations

  • In the March 15 Democratic candidates debate, Biden said that, if elected, he would place a moratorium on all deportations in his first 100 days of his administration, after which he would only deport individuals convicted of felonies.

On paths to citizenship and protected statuses

  • Biden’s platform states that he will work with Congress to create a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, as long as they register with authorities, are up-to-date on their taxes, and pass background checks. His platform also states that he would allow cities and counties to petition for additional visas to support economic development.
  • Biden has vowed to protect the now-reinstated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and establish a path to citizenship for recipients. He also wants to make Dreamers eligible for federal student aid as part of his higher education plan.
  • He also wants to review the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, which grants immigration status for limited periods to U.S.-based foreign nationals who’ve fled armed conflicts or natural disasters in their home countries. These protections usually allow for extensions. Biden’s platform states that TPS holders “who have been in the country for an extended period of time and built lives” in the United States will be offered a path to citizenship. In terms of the Americas, TPS holders include citizens from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua. He also supports extending TPS protections to Venezuelans.

On the Northern Triangle

On refugees and asylum seekers

Donald Trump

On the wall and border crossings

On deportations

On paths to citizenship and protected statuses

On work visas

On the Northern Triangle

  • Between July and September of last year, Trump signed bilateral agreements akin to safe third-country deals with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Since then, deportation flights carrying asylum seekers have arrived in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • During his first term, Trump has exchanged U.S. aid for immigration cooperation. After forging the agreements with Northern Triangle countries, Trump released $450 million in U.S. foreign aid to the three countries. The aid was previously frozen when he said the countries hadn’t done enough to halt migration north. In June, per the Los Angeles Times, the Trump administration approved $500 million in U.S. aid for the Northern Triangle through the end of fiscal year 2019 and for fiscal year 2020. The certification to receive aid came despite State Department warnings that the countries hadn't successfully curbed corruption and violence as is required to receive U.S. aid.

On refugees and asylum seekers

This article was originally published July 16, 2020 and has since been updated.