Trump’s crackdown hits legal immigrants – POLITICO

Pedestrians waiting in line at a port of entry in San Diego

Arrests by Border Patrol — a proxy for illegal crossings — rose in recent months to the highest levels of President Donald Trump presidency. | Denis Poroy, File/AP Photo

President Donald Trump’s immigration legacy so far isn’t a border wall or fewer migrants crossing the border illegally into the U.S.

It’s a reduction in how many people enter the U.S. by entirely legal means.

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State Department data show visa issuances have slumped under Trump, according to government information reviewed and analyzed by POLITICO. The number of visas for temporary stays in the U.S. fell 13 percent in fiscal year 2018 compared with two years earlier, the last full year under President Barack Obama. Immigrant visas, which allow a person to apply for a green card, dropped by 14 percent over the same period. And for people with visas, such as H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers, there is less certainty about whether they will be renewed because of changes in policy.

“That’s been a bit of a nightmare,” said Sarah Pitney, an immigration attorney with the D.C.-based firm Benach Collopy. “A lot of employers have just started looking for options other than H-1Bs, because H-1Bs have been such an issue in the last year or so.”

The State Department doesn’t provide detailed information about how many visa applications it receives or denies, so it’s impossible to determine how much the decline is attributable to tougher screening and how much to dwindling interest in traveling to the U.S. Either explanation would suggest that Trump’s posture had a chilling effect on legal immigration flows.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under Director Francis Cissna, has rained down policy memos and directives aimed at rooting out fraudulent and non-meritorious visa applications, but critics say they’ve had the effect of slowing down or blocking legitimate visa applications.

The changes amount to “reform by a lot of trimming and shaping,” according to Jessica Vaughan, a policy director with the Center for Immigration Studies, which backs lower levels of immigration. “It’s really a lot of small changes that in the aggregate make a big difference.”

By contrast, arrests by Border Patrol — a proxy for illegal crossings — rose in recent months to the highest levels of the Trump presidency. Border Patrol nabbed 51,856 migrants at the southwest border in November, a 78 percent increase from a year earlier. The arrest levels resemble the higher months of the Obama presidency, a sign that Trump’s attempts to limit illegal immigration haven’t worked.