The 2016 election, in which Donald J. Trump was chosen as the next U.S. president, created a great deal of fear within the immigrant community—even for people who already hold U.S. green cards. And while a green card holder has “lawful permanent residence,” meaning he or she can make the U.S. a permanent home, it’s true that this is a less secure status than U.S. citizenship.
Let’s take a look at whether, given Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, green card holders have any cause for worry.
First, let’s get clear about where the powers of the U.S. president end. U.S. immigration law is a federal matter, dependent on laws drafted by the U.S. Congress. While a U.S. president can suggest laws, or veto ones he doesn’t like, Congress has the primary power in this area.
So until and unless the U.S. Congress acts to change U.S. immigration law, you can count on your lawful permanent residence meaning what it did before the election, including your right to petition for other family members to immigrate and to apply for U.S. citizenship if and when you are eligible.
According to statements regarding Trump’s plans for his first 100 days in office, his plans include “begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won't take them back.”
This plan does not directly affect lawful immigrants—although some indirect effects might be felt.
It is already the case that any green card holders with criminal records can be deported. (Learn more about the criminal grounds upon which a green card holder can be deported.) In a climate of low tolerance for criminal behavior among the immigrant population, enforcement efforts could (subject to budget considerations) be stepped up, and judges making discretionary decisions about whether to grant a waiver of a ground of deportation might approach the matter more harshly.
Also at play in this analysis is Trump’s threat to cancel federal funding to any U.S. city that calls itself a “sanctuary city.” This phrase has no standard definition, but often means that local law enforcement will not take active or extraordinary steps to hand over arrested foreign-born persons to federal immigration agents or to investigate their immigration status.
Some cities may be pressured into changing their policies due to this possible loss of funding, though some, such as San Francisco and Chicago, have pledged to hold firm to their current policy. (See December 2, 2016 report in Mother Jones.)
Any green card holder who is arrested should consult with both a criminal defense attorney and an immigration attorney about how best to defend against possible deportation.
Reports of Trump’s plans for his first 100 days in office also include “suspend[ing] immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.”
On its face, this affects only new applicants for U.S. immigration status—but it raises concerns for any green card holder traveling outside the U.S. and then seeking return. A green card holder can be treated as a first-time applicant for admission to the U.S., and subject to all the grounds of inadmissibility, if he or she has been away for 180 days or more or has been arrested for or convicted of a crime. Such a person will ordinarily be placed into deferred inspection upon return and interrogated before being allowed into the United States (or not).
If the vetting process becomes more extreme—and on top of that, if Trump makes good on his plans to bar admission to all Muslims—one can imagine a scenario in which more green card holders are held up in deferred inspection or denied entry altogether. Immigrants from primarily Muslim countries are already familiar with the security delays resulting from their name being confused with another similar or common one.
U.S. citizens cannot be deported or barred from entry, except in rare cases where they committed fraud in order to obtain that status. If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident, applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are eligible might be wise. Most people can apply five years after approval for residence minus 90 days, with some exceptions.