The executive branch took concerted steps this year to curtail travel and immigration to the United States—and even to invalidate the immigration status of people who have been living lawfully in the country for years. Despite the administration’s stated concerns about efficiency, few of these actions seemed to be aimed at clearing the backlog of cases in immigration court—more than 750,000 at the end of fiscal year 2018—and most appear to be contributing to its growth.TRAC Immigration, “Immigration Court Backlog Jumps While Case Processing Slows,”; and TRAC Immigration, “Immigration Court Backlog Tool,”
The Trump administration lowers the allowable number of refugee entrants to the United States—and announces a plan to reduce it further in 2019. After cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States by more than half in 2017 (from 110,000 at the end of the Obama presidency to just 45,000), the administration announced that the number would be slashed by another 33 percent—to 30,000—for fiscal year 2019.For the fiscal year 2019 refugee ceiling, see U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Proposed Refugee Admissions FY 2019 (Washington, DC: DOS, 2018). For historical data, see Migration Policy Institute, “U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Number of Refugees Admitted, 1980–Present,” accessed January 29, 2019. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the decision was based on a new policy preference for settling refugees closer to their home countries, as well as on security concerns, saying that “[w]e must continue to responsibly vet applicants to prevent the entry of those who might do harm to our country.”Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Trump to Cap Refugees Allowed into U.S. at 30,000, a Record Low,” New York Times, September 17, 2018. Critics from immigration advocates to evangelical Christian groups have raised concerns about the zeal with which applicants are “vetted”: in fiscal year 2018, only about 22,000 refugees of the permitted 45,000 were actually admitted.Migration Policy Institute, “U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Number of Refugees Admitted, 1980-Present,” accessed January 29, 2019.
The administration creates a denaturalization task force. In June 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced plans to create a task force to investigate naturalization applications of people who have become U.S. citizens since 1990, purportedly in order to identify people who had become citizens improperly (by not actually meeting the requirements of citizenship) or who had misstated information on their citizenship applications.Amy Taxin, “APNewsBreak: US Launches Bid to Find Citizenship Cheaters,” Associated Press, June 11, 2018.
Once identified, the administration plans to strip these people of their American citizenship through a process called denaturalization.Dara Lind, “Denaturalization, Explained: How Trump Can Strip Immigrants of Their Citizenship,” Vox, June 18, 2018.
USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna insisted that the purpose of the task force is not to look through all past naturalization applications for any evidence of fraud; rather, the inquiry is purportedly focused on determining whether 315,000 fingerprint records of people who had been convicted of crimes or were fugitives—which had not been uploaded to a Department of Homeland Security database used to check identities—correspond to anyone who has been naturalized since 1990.Dara Lind, “Denaturalization, Explained: How Trump Can Strip Immigrants of Their Citizenship,” Vox, June 18, 2018.
Advocates, however, are skeptical, especially given the escalating number of denaturalizations.Dara Lind, “Denaturalization, Explained: How Trump Can Strip Immigrants of Their Citizenship,” Vox, June 18, 2018.
Since January 2017, U.S. Attorneys’ offices have filed 107 criminal naturalization fraud cases—a number in line with previous administrations, but with one important departure: previous administrations reserved criminal denaturalizations for people convicted of serious crimes or war criminals, but the current administration is casting a wider net, denaturalizing people for minor instances of fraud that raise no national security concerns.Seth Wessler, “Is Denaturalization the Next Front in the Trump Administration’s War on Immigration?” New York Times Magazine, December 19, 2018.
The real increase, however, is in civil denaturalizations.For an early statement from the administration regarding the aggressive pursuit of civil denaturalization, see Anthony D. Bianco, Paul Bullis, and Troy Liggett, “Civil Denaturalization: Safeguarding the Integrity of U.S. Citizenship,” Civil Immigration Enforcement and the Office of Immigration Litigation-District Court Section 65, no. 3 (2017), 5-18.
Between January 2017 and November 2018, the Office of Immigration Litigation filed more than 65 civil denaturalization cases—twice the number of cases filed in the preceding two years.Wessler, “The Next Front,” 2018.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is seeking authorization to hire 300 agents to work on, among other things, “citizenship fraud.”Patricia Mazzei, “Congratulations, You Are Now a U.S. Citizen. Unless Someone Decides Later You’re Not,” New York Times, July 23, 2018.