As Trump Barricades the Border, Legal Immigration Is Beginning to Plunge

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A tourist poses like the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York, Aug. 13, 2019. The Trump administration has said the immigration overhaul it announced this week will ensure that new legal residents carry their own weight, without prejudice or favor, yet the new rule for weeding out those who might be a drain on taxpayers will almost certainly disadvantage poor people from Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia. (George Etheredge/The New York Times)

Zolan Kanno-Youngs

c.2020 The New York Times Company

 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s immigration policies — like travel bans and visa restrictions or refugee caps and asylum changes — have begun to deliver on a long-standing goal: Legal immigration has fallen more than 11%, and a steeper drop is looming.

While Trump highlights the construction of a border wall to stress his war on illegal immigration, it is through policy changes that his administration has been able to seal the United States. Two more measures were to take effect by Monday, an expansion of his travel ban and strict wealth tests on green card applicants.

“In an administration that’s been perceived to be haphazard, on immigration they’ve been extremely consistent and barreling forward,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group.

The number of people who obtained lawful permanent residence, besides refugees who entered the United States in previous years, declined to 940,877 in the 2018 fiscal year from 1,063,289 in the 2016 fiscal year, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy. Four years ago, legal immigration was at its highest level since 2006, when 1,266,129 people obtained lawful permanent residence in the United States.

Around two-thirds of the immigrants who obtained permanent legal status from 2012 to 2016 could be blocked from doing so under the new so-called public charge rule, which denies green cards to those who are likely to need public assistance, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute.

The doors have been blocked in multiple ways. Those fleeing violence or persecution have found asylum rules tightened and have been forced to wait in squalid camps in Mexico or sent to countries like Guatemala as their cases are adjudicated. People who have languished in displaced persons camps for years face an almost impossible refugee cap of 18,000 this year, down from the 110,000 that President Barack Obama set in 2016.

Family members hoping to travel legally from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were blocked by the president’s travel ban.

Increased vetting and additional in-person interviews have further winnowed foreign travelers. The number of visas issued to foreigners abroad looking to immigrate to the United States has declined by about 25%, to 462,422 in the 2019 fiscal year from 617,752 in 2016.