President-Elect Donald Trump's Stance on Immigration

President-elect Donald J. Trump's immigration plan is based on three core principles: that the U.S. must build a wall across the southern border, that current immigration laws must be fully enforced, and that the interests of American citizens must be put first. In crafting his plan, Trump sought advice from true immigration reformer Senator Jeff Sessions, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.

FAIR disclaimer: Since securing the GOP nomination in late July, Trump has made a series of remarks that suggest he is open to changing his original positions on several immigration issues, including amnesty. However, his rhetoric has been extremely contradictory, raising serious questions about what he would actually do if elected.

The issues:


Amnesty is not immigration reform. The 1986 amnesty granted legal status to 3 million illegal aliens. It did not end illegal immigration, but encouraged more. Today, our illegal alien population is approximately 12 million.

While his published plan does not explicitly mention it, Trump and his surrogates have repeatedly called for a form of “touchback amnesty,” in which illegal aliens are deported and those without criminal records are allowed to quickly return to the country legally. In an interview with CNN, Trump stated that he would “get people out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal.” It is worth noting that the idea of “touchback amnesty” was once championed by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Ten years ago, while still a member of Congress, Pence said, “The only way to deal with these twelve million people is to insist that they leave the country and come back legally if they have a job awaiting them.” It is unclear, however, what form of status Trump-Pence would reward these illegal aliens with: citizenship; legal status with no path to citizenship; or nonimmigrant temporary visa.

Legal Immigration

The U.S. currently admits over one million legal permanent residents every year—the equivalent of adding a city the size of Dallas, Texas annually. Because mass immigration has such a significant impact on our lives, experts have long urged the federal government to adopt reasonable limits on immigration. FAIR believes that a sustainable level of immigration is no more than 300,000 annually.

In his plan, Trump notes that “the influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.” Trump calls for a “pause” in the issuance of green cards during which “employers will have to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed immigrant and native workers.” According to Trump, “this will help reverse women’s plummeting workplace participation rate, grow wages, and allow record immigration levels to subside to more moderate historical averages.” Trump would also increase the prevailing wage for H-1B visas to “force companies to give coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas.” He would also institute a requirement for companies to hire American workers first, as “many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement.” Finally, he vows to end birthright citizenship, welfare abuse by legal immigrants, and the J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth. The J-1 visa program would then be “replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth.” While his plan takes a tough-stance against legal immigration, Trump – who has admitted to using the H-1B program as an employer – continues to waver. “I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in,” he said in a debate last March. “I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”

National Security

The ability of the 9/11 hijackers to enter and remain in the U.S. undetected underscores that immigration law — the regulation of who enters our country, under what conditions, and for what length of time — is an integral aspect of national security policy. It is essential that our nation’s law enforcement agencies develop and implement the infrastructure and technology that will further secure U.S. borders along with new methods for screening and admitting aliens to the country.

Weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Trump called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Trump stated, "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.” However, Trump has since pivoted away from a blanket ban on Muslims to a new policy of stopping immigration "from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.” He has also specifically addressed the need to stop admitting Syrian refugees into the country, stating "We don't know who they are. They have no documentation and we don't know what they're planning." After initially rejecting a blanket ban on Muslims last December, Governor Pence indicated he is “very supportive” of his running mate’s call to suspend immigration from terror states. This stance does not come as a surprise, as Pence repeatedly attempted to stop Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana.

Border Security

A fundamental step to solving our illegal immigration problem and ensuring our national security is to secure the borders and ports of entry. Until sufficient resources, infrastructure, and manpower are placed at the border, these problems will persist.

The first core principle of Trump’s plan is to build a wall along the U.S. southern border, supposedly to be paid for by Mexico because “they are responsible for this [border security] problem, and they must help pay to clean it up.” Until Mexico pays for the wall, a Trump administration would seek to “impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages, increase visa fees for Mexican CEOs and diplomats, increase fees for border crossing cards, increase fees for NAFTA worker visas, and increase fees at ports of entry to the U.S. from Mexico.” It is worth noting that Mexico’s president has said that his country would not cooperate with Trump’s plan.

Interior Enforcement

There is an overwhelming consensus that most illegal aliens come to the U.S. for economic reasons, which makes worksite and interior enforcement programs a vital step toward true immigration reform. These programs must be renewed and expanded in order to guarantee a legal workforce, protect American workers, and restore the rule of law.

On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly vowed to deport the 11 million people living in the country illegally. However, in off-the-record talks with the New York Times, Trump admitted that this is only a starting point for negotiations and he might not deport illegal aliens as promised. While his official immigration plan does not offer any specifics on mass deportation, it does call for increased interior enforcement. He would triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to “enforce immigration law against the 11 million illegal aliens already in the interior of the United States.” He would also end the harmful “catch-and-release” policy and return all criminal aliens to their home countries. To protect American lives, he would seek to defund dangerous sanctuary city jurisdictions by “cutting off federal grants to any city which refuses to cooperate with federal law enforcement.” Regarding workplace enforcement, Trump would institute nationwide E-Verify to “protect jobs for unemployed Americans.” Finally, he would institute enhanced penalties for overstaying a visa and ensure completion of a visa tracking system.

Benefits to Illegal Aliens

Granting benefits to illegal aliens uses taxpayer dollars to reward illegal behavior and only serves to encourage more illegal immigration. With the exception of emergency medical care, illegal aliens are ineligible for most federally administered benefits. However, the Obama Administration’s deferred action and parole policies have made those illegal aliens eligible for taxpayer-funded benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.

According to Trump, “the costs [of illegal immigration] for the United States have been extraordinary: U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.” In his plan, Trump stresses the importance of a border wall in reducing the financial burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers. “The cost of building a permanent border wall pales mightily in comparison to what American taxpayers spend every single year on dealing with the fallout of illegal immigration on their communities, schools and unemployment offices,” he says. Trump goes on to say that he will readily “accept the recommendation of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and eliminating tax credit payments” to illegal aliens. Additionally, Trump pledges to end welfare abuse by legal immigrants, requiring them “to certify that they can pay for their own housing, healthcare, and other needs before coming to the U.S.”