Democrats vs Republicans: What Is Their Stance On Immigration?

Learn about the key differences between the Democratic and Republican stances on immigration policy.
A mother migrating from Honduras holds her 1-year-old child as surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the border Monday, June 25, 2018, near McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A mother migrating from Honduras holds her 1-year-old child as surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents after illegally crossing the border Monday, June 25, 2018, near McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Where do Democrats and Republicans stand on the issue of immigration?

The difference between Democrats and Republicans on immigration is as simple as inclusion versus exclusion. Democrats seek to continue accepting asylum seekers, extend a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, and reform our legal immigration system. Republicans seek to end asylum as we know it, end DACA, and restrict legal immigration.

While Democrats embrace immigration as “a defining aspect of the American character and our shared history,” Republicans admit immigrants “have undeniably made great contributions to our country” but add: “any national immigration policy must put the interests of our existing citizens first.”

Democratic View On Immigration

Democrats strive for immigration reform that focuses on the humanity of immigrants, documented or undocumented. While the party platform does include border security, it also seeks to put the time, effort and cost of enforcement into a focus on criminals, rather than families.

The Democratic platform alleges there is bigotry inherent in President Trump’s immigration actions and fear incited by President Trump, putting an emphasis on stopping his administration’s practice of separating families.

“Democrats are fighting for every immigrant who feels threatened by Donald Trump’s election. We will not stand by and watch families be torn apart — Democrats in Congress and in states and cities across the country are already standing up to Trump’s hatred and bigotry to defend their immigrant neighbors.”

The bottom line from Democrats: “We honor our fundamental values by treating all people who come to the United States with dignity and respect, and we always seek to embrace — not to attack — immigrants.”

Republican View On Immigration

“Americans first” sums up the Republican view on immigration, emphasizing scarcity, and fear of immigration. The Republican National Committee issued a resolution congratulating President Trump on his election, adopting his “Make America Great Again” slogan, and his language about immigrants:

“WHEREAS, It got so bad, America has seen its borders overrun, its immigration and visa laws unenforced, its sovereignty diminished, its citizens’ wages driven down by millions of illegal immigrants, and its security compromised with drug dealers and terrorists[.]”

While the GOP provides a scant paragraph on its website to its immigration stance, its blog posts and press releases sketch in the details. Categorization also tells a story. “Underestimating the Latino vote could cost Democrats in 2020” is filed under “Border Security.”

Other blog post titles:

  • “RNC Reality Check: Democrats want to give health care [sic] to illegal immigrants”
  • “ICYMI: Iowa Republicans Say “No” to 2020 Dems Open-Borders Agenda”
  • “Democrats need to condemn anti-American ICE protests”

Press release titles:

  • RNC Chair: The President Is Focused On The Safety And Security Of Our Country
  • RNC Chairwoman: Join The President in Putting Americans’ Safety First
  • RNC Chairwoman: Fix The Border Crisis So We Know Who Is Crossing Into America
  • ICYMI: RNC Chairwoman: Why Wouldn’t We Want To Know If You’re A U.S. Citizen?
  • ICYMI: RNC Chairwoman McDaniel: President Trump has Led on Immigration

Though Republican published materials on immigration are thin, their actions reflect a party in lockstep on immigration with President Trump.

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Democrats vs Republicans: Immigration Policies

While both parties will adopt their official platforms for 2020 at their nominating conventions in the summer, their stances are clear, gleaned from their materials, the lack of materials and their public actions.

DACA

Democrats:

Democrats support DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants a work permit and protection from deportation to children brought to the US by undocumented parents. Besides the damage to the economy from ending DACA--a loss of $460.3 billion in our gross domestic product in ten years--they point out the popularity of the program. 75% of Trump voters believe DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers, should remain in the US. The Democratically-led House passed the DREAM Act in June 2019.

Republicans:

The only references to DACA on the Republican site is a page with a Trump/Pence campaign heading lauding “No DACA deal” and a request for “information” which leads to a Trump donation page and three blog posts tagged “DACA” but making no mention of it.

Trump ended the DACA protections in 2017, and advocates challenged that order, with the case reaching the Supreme Court in 2019. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell killed the DREAM Act in the Senate in June 2019 when he said the Senate “probably wouldn’t” vote on it.

Under Trump, Manuel Antonio Cano Pacheco Pacheco, a DREAMer brought to the US by his parents when he was 3, had his DACA status terminated after misdemeanor convictions. He was returned to Mexico, where he was killed three weeks later. In 2019, ICE re-opened long-closed deportation cases against DREAMEers, including those cases of immigrants with clean records.

Republicans previously sued the Obama Administration over the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), which ended in a tie at the Supreme Court, leaving the injunction against the program from a lower court intact. They also posted a resolution opposing what they called President Obama’s “amnesty.”

Democrats:

Democrats shine a spotlight on the humanity of immigrants, and the underlying theme is compassion. According to the Democratic Party Legal immigration is a positive, a benefit to America, and Democrats list the following reasons on their site as to why:

  • “Immigration has an overall positive impact on our long-term economic growth.
  • “Higher immigration levels can actually have a positive impact on wages of native-born American, and even lower-skilled workers.
  • “Immigrants are about twice as likely to start their own business than a native-born American.
  • “Immigration has a net positive effect on federal and local budgets.
  • “Second-generation immigrants make greater tax contributions than native-born Americans.“Dreamers are actively contributing to our economy and not allowing them to stay could cost the economy billions of dollars, as well as billions of tax dollars foregone.
  • “Immigrants have enriched our culture, arts, media and science by making unique contributions to our nation and the world. Take just a handful of examples: Albert Einstein, Sergey Brin, Madeleine Albright, Isabel Allende.”

Republicans:

“Safety” and “security” and claims of economic threats dominate the Republican policy on legal immigration, with the RNC fully embracing Trump’s policies as their own, offering no disagreement or alternatives. While some Republicans initially objected to Trump’s ban on immigrants from eight mostly majority-Muslim countries, that disagreement has vanished. In February 2020, Trump expanded the ban to include six more countries. With Chad removed from the list in 2018, the total currently stands at 13.

Trump morphed the public charge rule into a wealth test which weighs the use of any means-tested program in green card eligibility. The rule now looks at use of Medicaid or food assistance, which were not previously considered, and weighs factors like health conditions with a heavy negative bias. Immigrants could be refused citizenship or permanent status if they do utilize any type of public assistance or means-tested program. This wealth rule includes the tax subsidies under the ACA or Obamacare that make health insurance more affordable. The Supreme Court allowed Trump’s wealth test in January 2020.

Asylum

Democrats:

Democrats oppose the Trump-era restrictions on people seeking asylum. The Democratic Party says they aim to empower women and girls globally; to support members of the LGBTQI community, who face persecution around the world; to protect religious minorities and to stem human trafficking, all reasons asylees might seek refuge. The Democratic party, on refugees: “we will look for ways to help innocent people who are fleeing persecution while ensuring rigorous screening and vetting.”

Republicans:

Even in their 2016 platform, Republicans sought to limit access to legal asylum, specifically to people from countries they deem “the breeding grounds for terrorism.” Republicans put asylum restrictions deemed “hardline” into the spending bill in 2019; proposed changes included prohibiting minors from certain Central American countries from applying for asylum at the border and require those children to have a parent or guardian in the US, while limiting such admissions to 15,000 per year. Their admission to the US would also have to have been in the “national interest.”

In 2019, Trump ended asylum for survivors of domestic violence. Trump’s Muslim Ban prohibited the entry of refugees from the countries listed, including Syria. Throughout his presidency, Trump enforced a policy known as metering, which limited the number of asylum claims processed at the southern border, in some cases turning migrants away from legal ports of entry only for them to attempt to re-enter illegally. Each year since taking office, Trump has lowered the refugee admission ceiling, reaching a new low of 18,000 for FY 2019.

Family Separation

Democrats:

Democrats stand vehemently opposed to family separations:

“Trump and his Republicans are telling blatant lies when they say this appalling policy is nothing new. Previously, when minors arrived at the border, they would be processed with their parents, and if they were arriving by themselves, they would be handed over to their relatives in the U.S. But this administration has instituted a new 'zero-tolerance' policy that is already breaking apart families — sending parents to jail and children into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. These cruel actions must stop. We stand with the families, communities, activists and groups telling the administration to #EndFamilySeparation now.”

Additionally, the Democratic Party opposes how the separated families are housed, the way they are treated, and the way their cases proceed, with toddlers called to defend themselves. Democrats point to reports of frozen food, of children ordered to strip for guards, to extreme cold, lack of medical attention, lack of adequate or functioning restroom facilities, and cages full of crying children

Republicans:

Republicans don’t object to family separations, but do blame them on Democrats: “Congressional Democrats own family separation by repeatedly voting against common-sense fixes to our immigration system that would make American communities safe.”

At the time of that writing, Republicans had control of the House and the Senate, and could have passed  a law forcing President Trump family separations at any time. The GOP site also has several blog posts decrying protests of ICE as “UnAmerican.” More on family separations later in this article.

Deportation

Democrats:

Democrats oppose mass deportations, deportations separating families and a lack of due process around deportations. From the Democratic Party:

“Trump’s extreme and anti-immigrant agenda is wasting valuable resources on deporting non-violent undocumented immigrants –some with decades-long histories in the United States— and tearing families apart in communities across the country.”

Republicans:

In their 2016 platform, Republicans said the following about deportation:

“The Department of Homeland Security must use its authority to keep dangerous aliens off our streets and to expedite expulsion of criminal aliens. Gang membership should be a deportable offense. Any previously deported illegal alien who continues to show a lack of respect for our borders and rule of law must be penalized. This is why we support stiffer penalties, such as a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, for any illegal alien who illegally re-enters our nation after already having been deported."

ICE

Democrats:

Democrats view the tactics of ICE, which include raids, rounding up of immigrants to be placed in detention, the stoking of fear by showing up to arrest one person and arresting another or all people present, and the separation of families as brutal and unacceptable. Democrats also argue they make immigrants less likely to report crimes, which reduces the safety of us all.

Republicans:

Republicans view any dissent against ICE, ICE facilities and ICE actions as “unAmerican.” In 2018, House Republicans passed a resolution calling ICE officers “brave” and “heroic.”

Obama And Trump Immigration Policies, Compared

The difference between Obama and Trump on immigration again boils down to exclusion vs. inclusion; to compassion vs. “hardline.” Though critics, including some from immigrant communities and advocacy groups, objected to some of Obama’s immigration policies, his administration’s priorities varied greatly from Trump’s.

Obama Administration:

After years of seeking bipartisan support from Republicans to fix what was universally regarded as a “broken immigration system,” President Obama unveiled the “Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System,” in May 2011, a plan that included improving the structures in place, securing borders, requiring responsible action from undocumented people, and calling for accountability for businesses that exploit undocumented labor.

When the Republican Congress refused to take action on behalf of DREAMers, Obama created DACA, a program shaping immigration enforcement priorities, halting the deportation of people brought to the US without documentation as minors, and issuing them work visas. In 2014, Obama revealed DAPA, which stopped the deportations of the parents of American citizens and lawful US residents; Republicans, led by former Speaker of the House John Boehner sued to end the program, arguing Obama exceeded his authority in issuing the executive order. The case ended in a 4-4 tie at SCOTUS, leaving a lower ruling invalidating DAPA in place.

Some immigration groups dubbed Obama “Deporter in Chief” for the volume of deportations during his tenure, about 5.3 million. Obama’s policy emphasized the removal of undocumented people with criminal records and newly-arrived unauthorized immigrants with few ties in the United States. Obama cemented those priorities in 2014 with his Immigration Accountability Executive Action. Though George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each deported more individuals--about 10 million for Bush and 12 million for Clinton--the previous administrations utilized a process formerly known as “voluntary departures,” now called “returns,” which do not involve a court order. Obama’s policy shifted toward formal removals, which do require a court order, have lasting legal consequences and reduce recrossings.

While President Trump and Republicans claimed that President Obama also had a policy of family separation, that's not accurate. President Obama had prosecutorial discretion at the border, which meant there was discretion used in which cases to prosecute and children weren't systematically taken when their parents were prosecuted. President Trump's zero tolerance policy ended prosecutorial discretion, which meant ALL illegal border crossings were prosecuted, which led to the systematic separation of children from their families. And with Trump's policy of metering we mentioned earlier, this forced more migrants to cross over illegally and have their children taken.

Obama’s take on immigration:

“We should be making it easier for the best and the brightest to study here, start businesses and create jobs. We should stop punishing innocent young people by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military so they can contribute to the country where they’ve grown up. We must finish the work Congress started last year, and pass the DREAM Act. We must respect families following the rules – reuniting them instead of splitting them apart. And, we need to provide farmers a legal way to hire workers and a path for those workers to earn legal status.”

Trump Administration:

Via executive order, the Trump administration ended DACA, a case now before SCOTUS. Trump has increased raids, ordering tactical units of ICE agents to “round up” suspected undocumented people. He banned immigration to the US and/or added restrictions for people from a current total of 13 mostly majority-Muslim countries. Trump ended Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-- which aids people impacted by a catastrophe, like a natural disaster or war--for people from El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras.

In his last fiscal year (FY) in office, Obama raised the refugee admission ceiling from 85,000 to 110,000; Trump has lowered the ceiling each year, including 2017 when he temporarily froze admissions of refugees despite the record number of globally displaced people. Trump reduced the FY 2017 admission number to 50,000; FY 2018 to 45,000; a then-record low of 30,000 in FY 2019 and a new low for FY 2020: 18,000.

The Trump Administration instituted a policy of zero tolerance, also known as family separation, for families seeking asylum, with children being held in detention and required to represent themselves at hearings. The policy was announced in May 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Session but had begun months earlier. It was crafted by White House Adviser Stephen Miller and executed by then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The Trump administration argued in court it was not required to provide these children soap or blankets, an argument it lost.

Multiple reports describe the conditions in which children were housed as “inhumane,” without proper food, water, or sanitation. Children reportedly cared for other children. There is little to no medical care; even after at least three children died in detention of the flu, Trump’s administration refused to vaccinate, even blocking doctors seeking to administer the vaccine from government facilities. There are reports of physical and sexual abuse. Multiple children have died in custody, at least seven by September of 2019.

In 2018, courts ordered the Trump Administration to reunify separated families. Initially reported as 2,800 separated children, the number as of October 2019 was 5,500, including 1,000 children removed from parents after the Trump Administration claimed it was no longer doing so in June 2018. Thus far, about 2000 children have been returned to their families thanks to vigorous legal action from various nonprofit groups. But using excuses like dirty diapers or past minor offenses, the administration continues to remove children from their parents’ custody. Parents are often deported without their children.

Trump has tried to hold immigrants indefinitely, without due process, in for-profit detention centers, a move which was rejected by the courts in 2019. Recently, the Supreme Court upheld Trump’s “wealth test,” an expansion of the “public charge” rule which would refuse immigration access to people who might use any means-tested system--including food assistance, Medicaid, or even the subsidies of Obamacare.

On February 26, 2020, the Justice Department announced a division dedicated to denaturalization or revoking the citizenship of naturalized citizens. The Denaturalization Division intends to review the files of 700,000 naturalized citizens, under “Operation Second Look,” according to its budget requests.

To date, Republicans have not filed any lawsuits against Trump regarding his use of executive orders to shape immigration policy.

Trump on people seeking asylum through Mexico:

“Some people call it an ‘invasion. It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border.”

The Rantt Rundown

While Democratic immigration policy focuses on inclusion, on the benefits of immigration, the American tradition of immigration and the humanity of immigrants, Republicans emphasize exclusion, “safety” and “security,” calling for “America First.” Republicans, though occasionally complaining over Trump’s immigration policy, have, in all practicality, embraced it wholesale, refusing to alter it when in the majority, and even passing a resolution praising ICE. Republicans also passed a resolution adopting Trump’s MAGA stance. Democrats object strenuously to Trump’s “hardline” immigration policies, particularly the targeting of DREAMers and the separations of families, and seek to end them.

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