Trump frays nerves on both sides of immigration fight

Trump frays nerves on both sides of immigration fight
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Supporters and opponents of increased immigration have something in common: President Trump is making them nervous.

Pro-immigration reform advocates who want to see a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers say they are horrified by the White House's policies. 

They argue that Trump is taking a more aggressive approach to deportation that risks breaking up families and that is raising fears within immigrant communities. 

Critics of increased immigration who cheered Trump during last year's campaign, on the other hand, are nervous that Trump is failing to keep his promises. 

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Trump’s plan for a border wall is going nowhere fast, and his appointment of Kevin Haslett, a pro-immigration economist, as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisors angered prominent proponents of reduced immigration.

Breitbart, the far-right news site once led by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, called Hassett “pro-immigration, pro-outsourcing,” and said his confirmation “will be a win for the corporatist, business-first faction in Trump’s White House.”

Other appointments made by Trump have left the other side of the immigration debate fuming.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement hired Jon Feere of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) as an adviser to Acting Director Thomas D. Homan, and Customs and Border Protection hired Julie Kirchner of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) as an adviser to Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.      

CIS and FAIR are advocacy groups for reduced immigration.

“Instead of offering workable solutions to our nation’s outdated immigration system President Trump, Attorney General Sessions and their anti-immigrant advisors, Jon Feere and Julie Kirchner, only offer blunt force,” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement criticizing the hires.

Anti-immigration groups say that despite some reservations, Trump has generally been a step in the right direction — particularly from the policies of President Obama.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, said Trump and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFederal judge rules Trump defunding sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional on its face' FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock MORE have “sent a clear indication that they're serious about enforcing immigration laws.”

Mehlman also downplayed the importance of Hasslett’s appointment.

“He's got a lot of other people who have advisory positions, cabinet positions, who believe illegal immigration or mass immigration is harmful to a lot of people in this country,” he said. “I'm not sure that having one person in there with a dissenting opinion is going to change things all that much.”

But there is frustration on the right because of the lack of success Trump has had in changing U.S. immigration laws.

“We would like to see certainly more in terms of legislation. Most of what has been done to this point is through some form of executive action, but that can only go so far and won't outlast the administration,” Mehlman said.

Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, an organization that promotes reduced immigration levels, said he has “some real praise” for Trump's immigration policy. But Beck said focus on the wall has detracted from E-Verify, an existing program that requires employers to check new hires against a federal database to determine whether they can legally work in the United States.

“The administration is not putting out any signals that I can see about E-Verify. And the indications are that the majority of new illegal immigrants in this country are visa overstayers, so it has nothing to do with the border,” Beck said.

E-Verify is currently only mandatory for bigger companies and government agencies, but proponents of making the program mandatory for every hire say it could take away the top incentive to come to the country illegally.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children a work permit and temporary protection from deportation.

Trump has somewhat softened his stance on the Obama-era program since the election, allowing it to remain on the books.

Pro-immigrant groups say Trump continues to target immigrant communities.

They say that DACA could be wiped out any day, and that the personal information given to the government by applicants to the program could be used to find and deport them.

Brent Wilkes, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's oldest Hispanic civil rights organization, was unsparing in his criticism of Trump.

“He's going out of his way to do what's not in the country's interest but what appeals to white nationalists on immigration,” he said.

“It seems he's declared open season on immigrants. It's deeply concerning, very troubling and unfortunately doesn't take into account the effect on real people.”

Wilkes does express optimism over the fact that DACA has survived, something disappointing to anti-immigration groups. They say they will put pressure on Trump to end the program.

“We have gone to our members to tell the administration they're very disappointed on the broken promise on DACA,” said Beck.

Mehlman and Beck both said they were being patient with the new administration.

“We're still waiting to see how things emerge. He has made reasonable efforts through his use of power as president to move things along,” Mehlman said.

“Overall, I'd say I'd give the administration a B on immigration,” said Beck.