With Experience Under 5 Presidents, One Thing Is Certain: Immigration Challenging No Matter Who’s In Charge!

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but I’ve been in immigration law for 25 years.

With every new President or Congress, there are always those that think “this one will be different.”

When it comes to immigration law, “different” is variable.

No matter who is POTUS, immigration law is very challenging. I’ve been through five presidential administrations, and the roller coaster ride never stops. There is always change in the laws, frequently making it harder, or occasional “dreams” like DACA that seem too good to be true, only to be stopped and started again.

A brief history of challenges we have faced in my 25 years in immigration law

The Clinton Administration:

Clinton was lauded as a progressive, but he started the ball rolling in 1996 with laws that made it profoundly more difficult for immigrants. With his two major immigration “reforms” – the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act – he effectively criminalized immigrants, and opened a flood gate for deportation. These two laws expanded the grounds of deportation to almost any crime including misdemeanors; stripped judges of discretion (the ability to consider life circumstances in order to judge cases on an individual basis); allowed many immigrants facing deportation to be imprisoned indefinitely, and subjected immigrants to fast-track deportations in which officers could expel them without any hearing.  Not to mention the 3 and 10 year bars!

The Bush Administration

“W” was a pro-immigration POTUS who had a guest worker deal going with the President of Mexico, just days before the 9.11 attacks.

It was the most shocking event of the Bush administration; 9.11 made things more difficult for everyone. Under Bush, Congress passed measures to tighten border security, facilitate data / information sharing and collecting  from international travelers, and broaden the government’s power to detain and deport immigrants.

To this end, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 disbanded the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on March 1, 2003. In its place three new federal agencies serving under the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were formed:

  1. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),
  2. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and
  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This put more money and power into the hands of the government and once again put immigrants under the microscope in the hopes of stopping any future terrorism.

The Obama Administration

Obama was “deporter in chief.”  He deported 400,000 more people during his first term than Trump did, and deported more immigrants than ANY other president before him, or since.

Three Million Deportations.

The Obama administration was also responsible for incarcerating children and building those much talked about “cages.”

The Trump Administration

More was been written about immigration under Trump than at any other time in history. Trump was actually good for immigration in the sense that he brought some longstanding immigration issues into the public sphere. Terrible changes were made however under his “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy, including separating children from their parents, taking away prosecutorial discretion (again), and trying to stop DACA.

The Biden Administration

So far, the Biden Administration has been more of the same. While I am cautiously optimistic about the Biden Administration’s Immigration policy, we do have a current border crisis, and the cages are still being used. DACA is back, due to the US Supreme Court.

My many years as an immigration lawyer tell me, the more things change the more they remain the same.

There will be new hoops to jump through, and new laws passed that will create as many challenges as they are trying to stop.

No matter who is POTUS Immigration Law always comes with challenges

You can see that immigration laws evolve, and immigration is an ever-changing landscape.

Every time a new law or series of reforms is enacted, immigration lawyers find new tools to fight for our clients.

We fight hard to win 10 year waivers on bars of entry. We fight hard to stop deportation of our clients, and we have helped thousands of people get their green cards despite these new laws. We have reunited thousands of families as well.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  – Winston Churchill


Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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