Issue 2018

Immigration and the 2018 State of the Union Address

Written By: Kelsey Shelton


President Trump recently delivered his 2018 State of the Union address. This piece looks at the President’s immigration policy proposals and briefly analyzes the possible efficacy of his proposed policies.

On January 30, 2018, President Trump delivered the 2018 State of the Union address andtried to present a unifying message. He, for the most part, painted a picture of the United States that most Americans aspire to, but his rhetoric was, in large part, detached from reality. While not unique in presidents’ approaches in State of the Union addresses, President Trump highlighted the positive outcomes rather than the co-contaminant ramifications of his agenda.

The one area where President Trump really articulated policy objectives rather than pure grandiloquence was in the area of immigration. Here, he relied on anecdotal evidence to excite the emotions of Americans; it was trite fear-mongering. The deaths of two teenaged girls in Long Island at the hands of MS-13 gang members, most of whom immigrated to the United States illegally is tragic and something that should never happen, but this horror story is not representative of the illegal immigrant population. Definitive data on an undocumented population is infeasible, but according to the Cato Institute, illegal immigrants are forty-four percent less likely to be incarcerated than native American citizens.[1]

President Trump also articulated his four-pillar immigration plan, which he proclaimed a middle of the road path to draw bi-partisan support, while actually articulating a three-for-one compromise. The first pillar of his plan is to offer a lengthy path to citizenship for 1.8 million young adults brought into the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers.[2] The second pillar is to build the wall along the Mexico-United States border. The third pillar is stopping the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which is a lottery that allows 50,000 immigrants into the United States annually from countries where there is low migration to the United States.[3][4] Finally, the fourth pillar is to limit familial sponsorships to spouses and minor children. Currently, a United States citizen may petition for a spouse, children of any age, parents, and/or sibling to receive a green card, with a preference for immediate family members, and for a fiancé to receive a visa.[5]

Even agreeing with President Trump’s desire to eliminate undocumented immigration, he failed to articulate why his three pillars needed to support DACA are the proper steps and declined to mention what the United States’ commitment to refugees and asylum seekers will be moving forward. Focusing on the second pillar, a border wall is divisive and a waste of tax payer money when there are superior, less-expensive alternatives.[6] With a goal to increase border security, money would be better spent on enforcement personnel and technological surveillance.[7][8]A wall without increased human surveillance/enforcement accomplishes nothing and increasing security jobs would also benefit the economy. The cost estimated for the wall ranges between $8 billion and $70 billion, not including persistent upkeep costs. While there is a myriad of better sources for this level of funding, if still focused on border security, even the “low” $8 billion dollars could be turned into over 200,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jobs, which would in turn be an economic stimulus rather than a relic likely to be torn down by a future administration.[9]

With an understandable goal of reducing illegal migration to the United States, President Trump unfortunately reemphasized his concerning approaches in his State of the Union Address. Increasing technological detection and manpower is a more effective and likely less-costly way of securing the border. Additionally, reducing the number of paths for vetted, legal migration to the United States will encourage more people to try to enter the United States undocumented.

* J.D., Georegtown University Law Center, Expected 2019. B.A. International Relations, Baylor University, 2016.

[1] Alex Nowrasteh, New Report on Illegal Immigrant Criminality Reveals Little & Admits Its Own Shortcomings, Cato at Liberty (Dec. 21, 2017), (recognizing that incarceration rates are not fully indicative of a population’s criminality)

[2] To qualify as a Dreamer under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Obama Administration policy rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2017, individuals must have been younger than 31 when the program began and have arrived in the United States undocumented when they were under 16 years old. They must also have lived in the United States continuously since 2007 and not have committed a crime, felony, or three or more misdemeanors. There were additional education requirements, which could be waived by honorable military service. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Initial Requests for DACA.

[3] While limited, there are some merit-based qualifications that must be met before an immigrant’s name can be placed in the pool; applicants must possess either a high school diploma or two years of qualifying work experience and undergo an interview process. U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs, Diversity Visa Program.

[4] An applicant for a Diversity Visa must possesses at least a high school diploma or two years of qualifying work experience.

[5] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Family of U.S. Citizens.

[6] Between 2010 and 2015, the current United States-Mexico border fence was breached 9,287 times and each fence breach repair cost $784 on average. United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requesters: Southwest Border Security at 23, 29, Feb. 2017.

[7] Operation Drawbridge implemented by the Texas Government in 2011 uses low-cost portable cameras ($300) and shallow water inceptors to detect movement and transmit this information to receivers. “Since the inception of the program, through the end of December 2016, Operation Drawbridge has been successful in detecting more than 275,000 criminal exploitations of the Texas-Mexico Border, and has directly resulted in the apprehension of more than 133,000 individuals. In addition, Operation Drawbridge has been responsible for the seizure of more than 182 tons of marijuana.” Texas Department of Public Safety, Operation Drawbridge.

[8] The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has various technology-centered border security programs in place.

[9] The typical starting salary for ICE agents is at the GS-5 federal pay scale which ranges between $28,945 and $37,630; assuming all at the high end, $8 billion dollars would provide 212,596 salaries;