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Politics

Trump's Lasting Influence On The U.S. Immigration System

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to what has been a core issue for President Trump's administration and his base. We're talking about immigration. At this week's presidential town hall, he spoke about what he considers his victories and what he claimed as his hopes.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are going to take care of DACA. We're going to take care of DREAMer. We - it's working right now. We're negotiating different aspects of immigration and immigration law. We built now over 400 miles of border wall, Southern border. Mexico's working very closely with us. We have the strongest border we've ever had. We want people to come into our country. They have to come in legally. But we are working very hard on the DACA program.

MARTIN: Now, we realize that in the course of the debates and town halls, it might not be so clear about how what's being said compares with the facts, so as we've done before, we're going to break down the substance of what the candidates have said on important policy questions. For today's conversation, we call Tessa Stuart. She covers national affairs and politics for Rolling Stone, and she has reported extensively on President Trump's immigration policies.

Tessa Stuart, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

TESSA STUART: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's jump into your recent reporting. You recently wrote a piece that is an overview of President Trump's immigration policies. And your reporting suggests that this administration has greatly altered the immigration system in less than four years - even more than most people would imagine, even given the number of kind of attention-getting moves that the president has made. So what do you mean by that? What's the biggest difference from four years ago?

STUART: So it's a mix, right? There are these big sweeping changes - things like family separation, the travel ban, increased ICE raids all around the country. But what we're also seeing are a lot of smaller, more technical changes in places that kind of have gone unnoticed. So researchers that I spoke to have found that there were more than 400 of these changes - executive actions, policy guidance, different regulations that have changed or been implemented that really have changed from the top down what immigration enforcement in this country looks like.

MARTIN: One of the important points that you've raised in your piece and in this conversation is that the Trump administration, for all of its reputation for chaos and for mismanagement, has been extremely focused on immigration policy, to the point that - you were telling us earlier that some of the people who do sort of basic research in this area say that they have a hard time even keeping up with all of the changes, that they're not even sure that there is kind of a definitive record someplace of all the changes that this administration has brought about.

Given that, what sense do you have of whether a Biden administration would put the same level of focus on this issue that the Trump administration has, but in the other direction?

STUART: Well, I think that they're definitely promising that they are going to undo a lot of the biggest and most - the most eye-catching, the most talked-about immigration policy changes that this administration has enacted. So that would be the travel ban, DACA, family separation. Joe Biden has promised to undo all of those things. I think what people worry about who are immigration advocates or who are studying these changes is that there are so many smaller changes that have gone under the radar that they might not be able to catch them all.

And I think the other big point that researchers would make is that a lot of the changes that the Trump administration has made and one of the ways that they might have a lasting effect is that they have been layered. So they're using a lot of different tools to make the exact same change.

MARTIN: That's fascinating. Before we let you go, have you been hearing from people on this issue? What are some of the sort of most pressing concerns that you're hearing people express?

STUART: Yeah. I mean, I think it's an existential issue for so many families in America. I mean, I talked to Elsa Valle, who is - lives in New Jersey. She's lived here for more than 20 years and has had temporary protected status. And her - so her status, temporary protected status, is extended to immigrants who are here - or undocumented immigrants who are here from countries that have been ravaged by war or natural disasters.

So she's been here for 20 years. She's married to a man who has also been here and has operated under the same protected status. They have a son who they brought here as a child who is protected by DACA. And then they had a second son once they arrived in the United States. And what it's meant for them is that at various points in the Trump administration, they haven't known how their family will stay together and if it'll be possible for them to stay together.

MARTIN: That is Tessa Stuart. She covers politics and national affairs for Rolling Stone magazine.

Tessa Stuart, thanks so much for talking with us.

STUART: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIAM THOMAS' "GO ABOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.