Is Trump Plan ‘Systematic Effort'to Derail Immigration?

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By Laura D. Francis

Aug. 16 — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's plan for “extreme vetting” of immigrants and a temporary halt on immigration from certain regions could wind up shuttering employment-based immigration, American Immigration Lawyers Association President William Stock said Aug. 16.

Trump's speech—“Understanding the Threat: Radical Islam and the Age of Terror”—contains “broad hints” that the billionaire “would use allegations about possible terrorism to shut down employment-based immigration,” Stock told Bloomberg BNA.

“It looks like there will be a systematic effort to use security clearances to reduce immigration” and “fear of terrorism to stop people from getting visas that Congress has allowed,” Stock said.

In an Aug. 15 speech in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump said he plans to implement an “ideological screening test” for immigrants, calling it “extreme vetting.”

He also mentioned that the U.S. admits some 100,000 Middle Eastern immigrants each year, as well as “hundreds of thousands of temporary workers” from the “same regions.”

“If we don't control the numbers, we can't perform adequate screening,” Trump said.

The billionaire also called for a temporary suspension of immigration from regions with “a history of exporting terrorism.” To carry out that plan, the departments of State and Homeland Security would identify “a list of regions where adequate screening cannot take place,” and no visas would be issued to individuals from those regions “until such time as it is deemed safe to resume based on new circumstances or new procedures.”

‘Complete Shutdown of Immigration, Period.'

Cleveland immigration attorney David Wolfe Leopold said Trump's proposal would result in “a complete shutdown of immigration, period.”

At the very least, Trump's screening proposal would “gum the system up” so that foreign nationals would be prevented from coming to the U.S. for any reason, business or otherwise, Leopold told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 16. Leopold is a past president and past general counsel of AILA.

“We saw a lot of this after 9/11, where individuals from certain countries just never knew when their visa applications would be held up and were never told why they were held up,” Stock, who practices with Klasko Immigration Law Partners in Philadelphia, said.

The plan would take the U.S. back to “the worst problems of 2002 and 2003, when the immigration service had hundreds of thousands of green card applications it didn’t process” because they were held up in security vetting, he said. In those years, only about half of the 140,000 employment-based visas allocated by Congress each year actually were issued, Stock said.

But that was just green cards, he said. Stock questioned what would happen if the same security concerns prevented the issuance of temporary work visas, like the popular H-1B visa for skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Companies Likely to Relocate

“I suspect that many companies” that currently rely on the employment-based immigration system “will simply have to expand their facilities in other countries,” Stock said. For example, he said, Microsoft wound up opening a development center in Vancouver, Canada, because its ability to hire talent was stymied by the annual H-1B cap, currently 65,000 per year.

The tech giant didn't move its facility out of the U.S. because Canada provided an opportunity to pay lower wages, Stock said. “Companies have to go where the talent is.”

“We have tremendous talent coming in from overseas,” including countries like Syria that almost certainly would be subject to an immigration halt under Trump, Leopold said. A lot of the “major research” in critical areas like health care and the sciences is being conducted by immigrants, he said.

And those are jobs that couldn't just be taken over by Americans who are out of work, because of mismatches in skill sets, Leopold said. Someone who lost his or her job at a steel mill isn't going to be able to perform “cardiovascular surgery at the Mayo Clinic,” he said.

Implementation Possible

But while Leopold called Trump's proposals “clownish,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said there are practical ways to implement an ideological screening test.

“The first thing to keep in mind is that Trump's speech referred to immigrants, not visitors, who are much more numerous,” Krikorian said in an Aug. 16 blog post. A business traveler's views don't matter that much because “they're just passing through and not joining our society,” he said.

“But people being granted permanent residence—or even long-term ‘temporary' status, such as foreign students or H-1B workers— are joining our society, and we have a responsibility to keep them out if they reject our basic values,” according to Krikorian, whose conservative think tank supports lower immigration levels.

Krikorian suggested a “bare-bones statement of values” that would have to be signed as a condition of obtaining a visa. Even if visa applicants lie, it “will put in black and white our rejection of Islamic supremacism,” he said.

Historical Practice

Stephen Yale-Loehr of Miller Mayer in Ithaca, N.Y., said in an Aug. 15 statement that presidents historically have prevented the admission of “noncitizens who advocate anti-democratic policies,” which is permitted under the Immigration and Nationality Act. In fiscal year 2015, this provision was used to keep out 46 temporary visa applicants and one green card applicant, according to Yale-Loehr, who is also a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School.

“But it is one thing to apply this provision narrowly to government leaders,” he said. “It is another to apply it to millions of immigrants and nonimmigrants.”

Leopold said the “complete shutdown” of the immigration system that Trump's plan envisions would require congressional approval—an approval that would never come. “Politically, it's D.O.A.,” Leopold said. “We’re talking about a complete, wasted four years and a complete loss of respect in the international community.”

A representative for Hillary Clinton's campaign couldn't be reached Aug. 16.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

For More Information

Text of Trump's speech, as prepared for delivery, is available at

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