Invisible Impediments: The Wall So Far

By Andrew Soboeiro

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.” Of all the promises President Trump has made, this always seemed the most outlandish. Besides being a waste of money and a violation of private property rights, a border wall isn’t even an effective way to keep out immigrants. Little wonder, then, that Congress has not taken this proposal seriously, and neglected to fund it in the current budget.

But just because Trump isn’t building a physical wall doesn’t mean he can’t keep immigrants out. Since taking office, the president has made it dramatically more difficult for immigrants, workers, and visitors to gain legal status while revoking the status of many who already have it. These actions together constitute an “invisible wall,” which prevents people from entering the country even without physically obstructing the border.

Pressure Through Policy

Trump’s invisible wall consists of an array of policies — many of which have received little to no attention outside the field of immigration — that have made it more difficult for visitors and immigrants to enter or stay in the United States. Although the below list is not exhaustive, some examples of these policies include the following:

  • Redundant Interview Requirements: As of October 2017, all employment-based green card applicants and spouses and children of asylees and refugees lawfully admitted to the United States, who were previously eligible for waivers of in-person interviews when applying for permanent residence as a result of having been through numerous screening procedures and interviews earlier in the immigration process, must be interviewed at a US Citizenship and Immigration field office. This change, which requires USCIS field offices to interview hundreds of thousands more applicants per year without any compelling reason, is a massive drain on resources and slows down the already-snail’s-pace green card application process both for those who were always required to be interviewed and for those who are newly subject to the interviews.
  • Resource Redirection: While dramatically increasing the interview burden on USCIS field offices, the Trump Administration has simultaneously reduced the resources for adjudication of family-based applications for permanent resident status. Federal authorities thus can’t process these applications nearly as efficiently, further exacerbating the problem of longer wait times caused by the new interview requirements to all types of green card applicants and their US citizen relatives and employers.
  • H-1B Hardships: In addition to pressuring green card applicants, the president is making it harder for companies to sponsor foreign employees even for temporary work visas. In particular, the Administration has subjected companies to a record number of Requests for Evidence if they apply for H-1B visas. Many of these Requests demand documents that applicants have already submitted or are based on a questionable reading of the pertinent laws. This widespread practice on the part of the Administration increases the already-demanding financial and administrative burden associated with H-1B visas, leading fewer businesses to sponsor high-skilled workers — and especially discouraging smaller businesses from doing so.
  • Extension Encumbrance: Also in October 2017, citing President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, US Citizenship and Immigration Services revoked a policy from 2004 that had instructed immigration officers to give deference to previous approvals when adjudicating extension applications for work visas involving the same employer, position, and employee. Now, officers are being asked essentially to re-adjudicate previously-approved petitions and all but encouraged to issue Requests for Evidence in extension applications, even though the elements of the original petition are unchanged. As with the redundant new interview requirements in green card applications, this superfluous new policy hamstrings the speed and efficiency with which temporary work visa extension applications are adjudicated, causing added expense and administrative hassle to US employers sponsoring foreign workers with specialized skills. Moreover, these added burdens on employers undermine the smooth functioning of their businesses as the resources required just to temporarily sponsor a genuinely needed foreign worker become ever greater, the time required grows longer, and all the while the process becomes increasingly unpredictable.
  • Protection Rejection: The Trump Administration has revoked Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of people. Not only has this put those individuals in jeopardy, but it sends a message to other immigrants with humanitarian needs that they will not be welcome here.

In addition to enacted policies, Trump is discouraging immigration with his proposals. For example, the Administration has indicated that it wants to deny work visas for the spouses of H-1B workers. While this policy has not yet gone into effect, the fact that it may in the near future has made potential H-1B applicants and their families skeptical about coming here. Combined with a growing perception that the United States is unfriendly to immigrants, this has dramatically reduced the number of people seeking to live, work, or study in this country.

A Trumped-Up Border Patrol?

Despite his success at alienating immigrants through policy, Trump continues to insist that he must build a physical wall. When Congress didn’t approve the funding, he responded by declaring that he would send US troops to patrol the border directly. He claimed these soldiers would stop the “Caravan of People form Honduras” until the wall was in place, adding that “Congress MUST ACT NOW!”

It is unclear how Trump would carry out this military stunt. Not only would it be of questionable legality, but such an operation would be highly costly, and Congress has not authorized the requisite funding. But if he does manage to send troops to the border, it would only further the atmosphere of hostility and xenophobia that is driving immigrants away.

Vigoda Law Firm keeps track of all Trump’s policies and proposals, along with any other developments that affect the rights and safety of immigrants. To learn more or explore your legal options, visit our website today or call 919-307-7817.