"Get to Higher Ground" After the Trump Election the Advice of Attorneys Representing Immigrants

How to protect one's self as a non-citizen in America after the 2016 election.

Immigrants around the U.S., whether lawfully present or not, are asking their immigration attorneys: What does the Trump victory mean for me? Is my status in the U.S at greater risk?

There's no question that Donald Trump vowed, during his campaign, to be tough on undocumented and in some cases legal immigrants, focusing in particular on plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, end President Obama's immigration-related Executive Orders (presumably including DACA), and curtailing or restricting anyone from countries espousing terrorism or dominated by Muslim beliefs.

All indications are that he plans to follow through on these promises early in his administration, which will begin at noon on January 17, 2017.

Reports of his planned first 100 days include that, on day one alone, he will:

  • Cancel every "unconstitutional" executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama. [Note from Nolo: quotation marks added; but it's worth remembering that no court has found the DACA Executive Order to have been unconstitutional; we assume he intends to cancel it regardless.]
  • Beginning to remove (deport) the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won't take them back. [Note: no authority has been found for Trump's two-million figure, so the actual numbers deported will either be less, or he actually plans to deport more than criminals.]
  • Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur, with all vetting of people coming into the U.S. to be considered extreme vetting. [Note: It's hard to predict the impact of this portion of the plan, given that every visa applicant to the U.S. already goes through security checks.]
  • Cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities. [Note: Given that no legal definition of "sanctuary" exists, and that Trump seems to be under the misapprehension that any of these cities actually shield criminal aliens from enforcement, it would be difficult for him to implement this on day one, if at all.]

Whether President-Elect Trump really intends to do all the above things on a Friday afternoon is an open question, but let's assume they happen the following Monday at the latest.

After that, he hopes to see legislation passed that:

  • Addresses illegal immigration by funding construction of a wall on the U.S.'s southern border with the idea that Mexico will provide reimbursement; establishes a two-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally reentering the U.S. after a previous deportation [a two-year possible sentence already exists, though it's not mandatory] and a five-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for people with felony convictions [hardly a change, given that reentry after aggravated felony already carries a sentence of up to 20 years], multiple misdemeanor convictions, or two or more prior deportations; and amends visa rules to enhance penalties for overstaying.
  • Establishes new screening procedures for immigration.

Only Congress can pass immigration-related legislation, however. As President, his power is limited to working within the existing legal structure.

In addition, media reports say that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped draft anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and elsewhere and is a member of Trump's transition team, stated that Trump's policy advisers were looking into creating a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.

It's hard to imagine any immigrant in the U.S. or beyond who won't be affected in some way by these measures, at least through family members.

What can one do in the face of Trump's plans and the uncertainty of how they will be carried out? The best advice at this point is to get to work on ensuring that your status in the U.S. is as secure as possible.

If you are undocumented, reevaluate whether you have a basis upon which to legalize your status; or if you have been planning to marry a U.S. citizen, consider heading to City Hall and marrying sooner rather than later. (See Marriage-Based Visas and Green Cards.)

If you have DACA, apply to renew it as soon as legally possible--that is, up to 150 days before it expires. (See Now That Trump Won, What Happens to My DACA?)

If you are an asylee or refugee, apply for a green card as soon as you're eligible (one year after your approval as an asylee or entry into the U.S. as a refugee.) See How to Apply for Permanent Residence (a Green Card) as an Asylee and Applying for Permanent Residence as a Refugee.

And even if you're a lawful permanent resident (with a green card), remember that you can be deported under various circumstances. Apply for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are eligible (in most cases, five years after your approval for residence minus 90 days, with some exceptions.)