Trump on Immigration: Tearing Apart Immigrant Families, Communities, and the Fabric of our Nation

In the first installment of the ACLU’s election 2024 memo series, our experts detail the threats a potential second Trump administration poses to immigrant families and America’s immigration system.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has promised to pursue even more extreme anti-immigrant policies if he wins a second term. These policies would disregard fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law to devastate immigrant communities and erode freedoms for all Americans.

The ACLU is prepared to hold our executive branch to account. Just this week, we announced that we’ll challenge the Biden administration’s executive actions to illegally restrict people’s right to seek asylum – just as we previously challenged Trump’s actions. If Trump is reelected, we will continue to push to protect people and their rights against unlawful overreach. Learn more in our breakdown:

Trump On Immigration

The Facts: If reelected, Trump has promised to use totalitarian tactics to carry out the largest mass detention and deportation program in the nation’s history. Experience from smaller-scale detention sweeps shows that his proposed policies will lead to people being stopped, arrested, or detained simply because they “look foreign,” and his program will necessarily entail numerous other legal violations as well. Trump and his supporters also seek to dismantle our asylum system – creating more chaos at the border — and attack families by ending birthright citizenship and depriving undocumented children of their right to a public education. Trump has also vowed to reinstate family separation at the border – a cruel policy the ACLU blocked during his presidency.

Why It Matters: While many of the immigration policies we saw during Trump’s presidency were halted or delayed through litigation, the immigration policies we’ll likely see during a second Trump administration are far crueler, more extreme, and more fundamentally damaging to core rights and freedoms than any in living memory. If Trump is reelected, his plan to deport millions of people a year and severely restrict legal immigration will violate key legal protections – including our right to due process – and make xenophobia and racism the touchstones of American immigration policy. Simply put, these policies would harm all of us by tearing apart immigrant families, communities, and the fabric of American society.

How We Got Here: There’s no doubt that a second Trump administration will pick up and expand the anti-immigrant campaign it began in 2016. During his first term, the Trump administration instituted a Muslim ban, tried to deport Dreamers and others with temporary legal protection, separated families seeking asylum, and fought to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Our Roadmap: Through coordinated action at all levels and branches of government, we’re prepared to fight the Trump administration’s attack on immigrant rights. We’ll call on legislators to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from conducting mass deportations and pass measures to begin shrinking the ICE detention machine. We’ll also work with states and localities to build a civil rights firewall to protect residents to the full extent possible and ensure that a Trump administration can’t hijack state resources to carry out its draconian policies. And, if Trump sends a bill to Congress that effectively ends asylum, we’re prepared to mobilize our supporters nationwide to stop it because we know that a strong majority of voters support the U.S. asylum system.

In addition to working for policy change at every government level, we’re prepared to litigate cases to protect people’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as other legal provisions, against the mass deportation program. We’ll use the full power of the Fourteenth Amendment and Supreme Court precedent to protect birthright citizenship and ensure immigrant children have equal access to education. Lastly, should a second Trump administration try to bring back family separation at the border, we’ll take them to court for violating our settlement agreement.

What Our Experts Say: “These policies have no place in a democracy that protects or respects civil liberties and the rule of law. From the courts to the halls of Congress, we will use every tool at our disposal, including litigation, to defend the rights of immigrants and protect all members of our communities from the widespread damage these policies would cause.” – Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

“Xenophobia and racism would become the touchstones of American immigration policy under a second Trump administration, if he is re-elected. That’s why we must begin mobilizing with local and state governments now to protect communities nationwide from extreme anti-immigrant policies.” – Naureen Shah, deputy director of government affairs at the ACLU

What You Can Do Today: ICE detention is known for abuse, pervasive medical neglect, and complete disregard for the dignity of people in its custody. Needlessly locking up people seeking a better life does nothing to make our communities safer. Take action now: Tell your congress member to support cuts for ICE detention capacity.

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