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An Immigration Attorney Fact Checks the Final Presidential Debate

At last Wednesday's debate, the topic of immigration was finally discussed, although not at great length as the debate quickly veered into other subject matter.

Before I fact check what the candidates said in the final Presidential debate regarding their views on immigration policy and reform, I want to make it clear that neither I, nor The Shapiro Law Firm, LLC, have a partisan motivation in discussing these issues:

As an immigration attorney, I am privy to the inner workings of the United States immigration system and the people that go through it. We have clients who come from over 100 countries around the world, who represent all races, religions, nationalities, political beliefs, socio-economic status, etc. We have clients who came to this country legally and those who did not. We have clients who were initially in this country legally but violated the terms of their status in some way and are now here illegally. We also have clients who initially entered this country illegally but now have legal status. Finally, we have clients who do not have lawful status, but are not unlawfully present in the United States. As such, my goal here is to inform and assess the validity of what the candidates said in the debate based on my significant personal experiences combined with cold-hard facts. None of what is said here or in any other blog post on our website should be construed as a political opinion or endorsement of any kind.


Back to the fact-checking!

Topic #1 - The Border Wall

Trump: Wants to build a wall on the entire border between Mexico and the United States in order to stem the tide of illegal immigration as well as the flow of drugs and crime into this country.

Clinton: Does not believe that a border wall is the answer. Clinton believes that our border down south is more secure than it has ever been in the past

The facts: In previous blog posts, I have discussed and provided statistical evidence that immigration status is not an indicator of one's propensity to commit violent acts or break the law. In fact, you are more likely to be harmed by an American-born individual than someone born outside of this country. I also explained that an illegal border crosser coming in from Mexico is not a significant problem compared to the other problems facing our immigration system and the security of your nation.

The category of "illegal immigrants" is broadly defined. It encompasses many classes of aliens present in the United States without permission, including, but not limited to:

  1. 1. individuals who are admitted to the U.S. with a valid visa and either stay past the date of his or her authorized stay or violate the terms of the visa in some way;

  2. 2. individuals who are admitted to the U.S. with a valid visa, but one that is not in his or her own name, and;

  3. 3. individuals present in the U.S. without being inspected or admitted (aka entry without inspection (EWI) or individuals who illegally crossed the border without permission).

As such, the border wall proposal is extremely flawed both in theory and in practice. Putting aside the fact that the cost to build such a wall has been shown to be prohibitively expensive (a topic outside the scope of this post), it also fails entirely to address the illegal immigrants present in the U.S. who fall into categories 1 and 2 above.


Topic #2 - Trump's claim that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), both federal agencies, have endorsed him.

The facts: By law, a federal agency cannot endorse a candidate and must conduct itself in a bi-partisan fashion.

Trump is purposely misleading the public here. Neither ICE nor CBP endorsed Trump. What Trump is actually referring to is a union that is comprised of ICE and CBP employees, which is patently different than an entire governmental agency endorsing him.


Topic #3 - What to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

Trump: Wants to institute mass deportations for practically everyone who is in the U.S. illegally. He has also said that he will allow these people to return and even be able to get green cards and eventually citizenship if they do it legally. Trump further expressed the concern that there are a lot of people who have been waiting for a very long time outside of this country to come here legally, and that it would not be be fair to those people if we grant "amnesty" to those here illegally.

Clinton: Supports a path to citizenship for individuals present in the U.S. without legal status. Clinton does not support the mass deportation of 11 million people and stated in the final debate that it would be "un-American" to do so and would result in a very large law enforcement presence throughout the United States to do so.

The facts: ICE is incapable of deporting 11 million undocumented individuals without deploying a military-like law enforcement presence throughout the country. Clinton is correct that such a force would disrupt daily life, break families a part, and create a state of fear and panic.

Trump is technically correct in saying that the Obama administration has deported more people than previous administrations, but what he fails to mention is that the statistic he uses to support this fact also includes individuals who voluntary left the United States. The term "deportation" refers to forced removal from the United States.

There is no denying that the number of undocumented immigrants in this country is problematic for a variety of reasons. There is also no denying that there are countless individuals waiting outside the United States for their turn to come here and obtain residency legally.

It is however, unrealistic to actually round up 11 million people and kick them out of the country. I can outline a laundry list of issues associated with executing this plan, but there is one issue in particular that I would like to highlight that I do not feel that Trump has taken into consideration, or if he has, he has not addressed this issue with the public:

The issue is that the United States cannot just dump people in other countries, each country has to agree to take back a person. This makes sense when you really think about how this plan would actually play out:

Person A is put on a plane to country X. When person A gets to the border patrol in country X, the U.S. has no authority to demand the border patrol of country X to accept person A, even if person A is a citizen of country X.

International law forbids us from interfering in the internal affairs of other nations. I have encountered this issue numerous times in the context of individuals whom the government wants to deport, but the individuals country of citizenship refused to issue a travel document to allow our government to send that person there. This problem is compounded when you also consider the fact that many people are stateless and/ or cannot prove their country of nationality and/ or citizenship. In fact, ICE is required to release aliens with deportation orders from custody if it does not appear likely that ICE will obtain a travel document for said alien in the foreseeable future.

Another important point here is that not all "undocumented immigrants" are unlawfully present. The "11 million" figure includes, for example, people who have pending asylum applications. The United States government has a duty to allow asylum applicants to remain in this country until their applications are fully adjudicated.

The final point of disagreement between the two candidates on this topic relates to whether or not it is fair to provide a path to citizenship to those illegally present in the United States. Trump's perspective is that it is unfair to allow people who intentionally violated U.S. immigration law to be excused when there are countless people properly waiting outside the country for their turn. Clinton on the other hand, would like to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States who meet certain eligibility requirements, including individuals with no criminal history and individuals who have U.S. Citizen children.

Both candidates do have valid reasons for their proposals. Certain categories of family members of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents can wait upwards of 10-15 years before they are actually allowed to permitted to enter the United States as a Permanent Resident. Granting legal immigrant status to illegal aliens present in the U.S. is unfair to those who are patiently waiting and abiding by the law and there is a danger that this plan will encourage others to enter the U.S. illegally or remain here unlawfully in the mindset that they too will eventually be granted legal status.

But the reality is, we cannot ignore the problem and mass deportation will not only be prohibitively expensive, it will also have a negative impact on all facets of American life, including the economy, housing market and GDP. In contrast, researchers have shown that comprehensive immigration reform will reduce the federal deficit and grow the GDP. Click here for a fantastic breakdown of research supporting the conclusion that comprehensive immigration reform will positively impact this country, while mass deportation is impractical and can have devasting and long-lasting effects on our economy, job and housing market CDP and more.

The bottom line is, our immigration system is broken and needs to be reformed, mass deportation is NOT the answer and the decision to grant or not grant aliens present in the United States unlawfully any type of legal status needs to have an individualized analytical component.

For further discussion on the complexity of these issues involved in immigration policy and reform, click here to read "Untangling the Immigration Debate," featured in The New Yorker.


Topic #4 - Syrian Refugees

Trump: ISIS is using the refugee process to gain entry to the United States and commit terrorist attacks

Clinton: Will not allow any refugees in without careful vetting.

The Facts: As I discussed in a previous blog post that explains the refugee screening process (click here to read the post), it takes about 2 years of background checks and interviews before a refugee can enter the United States. Furthermore, countries with links to terrorism, like Syria, go through additional screening procedures by U.S. intelligence agencies.. The bottom here is that the refugee process possesses a multitude of safeguards to prevent a terrorist from using the system to gain entry to this country and there are many other immigration processes used by terrorists to come here that requires far less vetting. Out of all of the failings of the U.S. immigration system, the refugee process should not be the center of concern.


That wraps up the final debate checking of facts relating to immigration. As always, I encourage you to learn more about all of these topics so that you can make an educated decision as to which of the 2 presidential candidates will best promote U.S. immigration policy while also protecting our national security.