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Opinion | Trump’s Overhaul of Immigration Is Worse Than You Think

Despite Mr. Trump’s promises to protect Americans from killer immigrants, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now more than twice as likely to pick up immigrants with no criminal record beyond immigration violations, compared with the number before he took office. After being labeled the “deporter in chief,” Mr. Obama ordered ICE to concentrate enforcement on unauthorized immigrants who had committed crimes. Within weeks of his own inauguration, Mr. Trump eliminated any deportation priorities and made all undocumented immigrants fair game for ICE. With many cities resisting ICE’s more stringent demands for cooperation, the agency has also found it easier to just pick up anyone with an existing deportation warrant.

“I understand when you’re a criminal and you do bad things, you shouldn’t be in the country,” Helen Beristain, who voted for Mr. Trump, said when her husband, Roberto, owner of a restaurant in Granger, Ind., was ordered to be deported to Mexico in March 2017 after 20 years in the United States. But, she said, when “you support and you help and you pay taxes and you give jobs to people, you should be able to stay.”

Not anymore.

While Mr. Trump promised a crackdown on illegal immigration during his presidency, he has also eagerly pursued reductions in authorized immigration.

The administration had threatened to furlough 70 percent of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees, blaming the pandemic, but some of those employees said the real problem was restrictive policies and delays in visa applications that have sharply reduced revenue from the processing fees that fund the agency. At the same time, applications for permanent residency have declined since the administration announced it would adopt a rule that would prevent those considered likely to receive public benefits from becoming permanent residents. Among recent green-card recipients, 69 percent had at least one of the characteristics that would be weighed, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, recently announced that the number of H-1B visas for skilled workers would be cut by one-third because of tighter criteria for who can get them. Critics said this would make American companies shift more work abroad.

Mr. Trump also has ended “temporary protected status” for 400,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and elsewhere who have legally lived and worked in the United States for decades after being provided a haven from war or natural disaster.

If Democrats were to take control of Congress and the White House next year, it would be fairly simple to undo some of the damage Mr. Trump has done to the nation’s immigration system. The protections that Mr. Trump overturned for the Dreamers — the thousands of people who were brought to the United States without authorization when they were young — could be written into law, with public support. The travel ban could be overturned, and more refugees could be admitted. ICE could be directed to once again concentrate on deporting criminals. Resources could be shifted to smarter border security measures that don’t rely on a physical wall.

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