Contributed by Rocio Orozco
El Instituto had the privilege to host Kevin Johnson for its annual Robert G. Mead Lecture, 6 November
2018. Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis School of Law and long-time expert on immigration law, delivered
a lecture on “Immigration in a Time of Trump.” He began his lecture expressing his growing concern with
Trump’s lack of commitment to the rule of law in the immigration field. Tweets by the president that are
too racist to put on television and which propose removing birthright citizenship by executive order
contravene laws and norms about how the power of the executive can be rightfully used.
Even when considered within the United States’ long history of excluding immigrants of color, Trump
immigration policies look ugly. Johnson’s lecture covered several Trump immigration decisions with racial
The Travel Ban: A poorly written executive order that prevented Muslims from entering the country. The
first time it was struck down by the courts because it was not specific or had exceptions and created
chaos. The second attempt was also struck down in part because of Trump’s campaign comments
against Muslims. The third attempt was accepted by the courts because it was narrower and more
carefully written. Johnson stressed that all this was the administration’s attempt to push the envelope and
see what it can get away with.
Immigration Limitation/Refugee Limitations: Trump has criticized “chain migration,” a misinformed view
that existing, and highly restrictive and slow-moving family reunification provisions constitute an open
door for legal immigrants to bring unlimited numbers of their relatives into the country. Limited and slow-
moving as family preferences are, the Trump admiration is taking serious steps to change the racial
demographic of this nation by doing away with family preferences entirely and limiting the number of visas
allowed to immigrants from certain “s***hole” countries. Notable also is that Trump began his campaign
by stating Mexicans were criminals and rapists and Salvadorians were MS-13 members.
Social Services: The administration wants to make it more difficult to receive citizenship if you have ever
received social security benefits, even if your child is a U.S. citizen.
Zero-Tolerance: The most extreme measure this policy is taking is family separation, by which adult
Central American asylum seekers are jailed, leading to separation and detention of their children in
separate facilities. Johnson pointed out that there are other options instead of detention.
Attacking Sanctuary Cities: Jeff Sessions sued the state of California for not complying with federal law
requiring the cooperation of local law enforcers with ICE. States protecting their local autonomy are
fighting back. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) wants to remain separate from
federal immigration enforcement and not ask the immigration status of victims, because they need their
cooperation in fighting crime.
Ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): A policy that provided relief from deportation and
work eligibility for 800,000. The majority who benefited from this program are from El Salvador, Mexico,
Ending Temporary Protection Status (TPS): TPS allows temporary protection from deportation to out-of-
status migrants from specific countries that were recovering from natural disasters and armed conflict.
The administration wants to end TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.
Expanded Removals: The Obama administration deported record numbers of immigrants while also
seeking to prioritize recent border crossers and non-citizens with serious criminal records. It exercised
discretion to let immigrants stay who had been in the country for several years and had strong family and
community ties. The Trump administration has moved toward deporting any out-of-status immigrant,
regardless of their legal records or family ties.
The question and answer period following Dean Johnson’s talk focused on relief through the courts,
questions of racial injustice, activist strategies and sources of hope for a most just future.