Editor’s note: As the Nov. 3 election draws near, the Daily Universe is exploring different national and local issues impacting voters in a series of stories.
BYU marketing major Edgar Columna immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was 5 years old. Even though he has lived in the U.S. for most of his life, he said his college experience has been greatly affected by the fact that he’s an immigrant.
Columna said this has helped him have empathy for those trying to enter the country now. “If we can, for a second, not look at how people come into this country but the reasons why and the benefits to this country, I think it might put the legality of it a little bit more into perspective,” Columna said.
Immigration is a hot button issue this election season, and Americans are fairly divided on the question of how many people the United States should allow to immigrate in.
According to a Gallup poll between May 28 and June 4, about one-third of Americans believe there should be more immigration, about one third believe there should be less, and about one third believe the amount of immigration should stay at the present level.
BYU immigration law professor Carolina Núñez said that historically, the issue of immigration tends to be more divisive during times when the U.S. economy is struggling.
“I think there are a lot of people who assume that if you have more immigration, then that means there are fewer jobs available to U.S. workers, and I suppose on some level that’s true,” Núñez said. “(But) what doesn’t get taken into account … is that immigration actually can be a huge boost to the economy. Immigrants are disproportionately entrepreneurial. They start businesses.”
As far as voting goes, Núñez said she believes that even though most people aren’t single-issue voters, immigration is a big issue that affects a lot of other aspects of an election, and President Donald Trump’s policies have made it especially important this year.
“While people may not specifically talk about immigration or think about it in the moment that they’re in the voting booth, I think it’s part of this whole package that comes with the Trump campaign platform.”
One of the first immigration decisions Trump made shortly after his inauguration was his executive order in 2017 banning travel into the U.S. for immigrants and refugees from multiple countries. After the ban was fought by various state supreme courts and revised by multiple presidential proclamations, the executive order still bans all individuals from North Korea and Syria, as well as placing specific restrictions on immigrants and visitors from Iran, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Venezuela.
While Americans are divided on how much immigration there should be, 77% believe that immigration is good for the country, according to the Gallup poll mentioned above. Skyler Beltran, the vice-chair of the Utah County Republican Party, said his party aims to welcome immigrants who enter America legally but is also concerned with enforcing immigration laws.
“The president made it clear while campaigning that he would make immigration reform a top priority if elected. The president’s plan included additional border wall completion, additional resources for border police and a merit-based citizenship process. He has and continues to deliver on his promises,” Beltran said.
One of Trump’s major promises during his 2016 election campaign was that he would build a wall along the southern border of the United States. The construction on this wall has been ongoing throughout Trump’s presidency, but according to a Washington Post article published in February, it is not as close to being completed as the Trump administration had promised it would be by this point in the presidency.
He and his administration were also harshly criticized over a policy he instituted aimed at turning back waves of immigrants from Central America by separating them from their minor children once they crossed into the U.S. seeking asylum. To date, hundreds of children remain separated from their parents despite Trump’s recent comments that he would like them all to be reunited with their families.
Another controversial immigration decision made during the Trump presidency was the announcement this summer that international students in the United States on a student visa would not be allowed to stay if all of their classes were being held online in the fall.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden responded to the original announcement in a tweet, stating that “Across the world, people come to this country with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future. They study here, innovate here, they make America who we are. Donald Trump doesn’t get that — we need a president who does.”
The new rule was reversed about a week later after it received national backlash. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the U.S. government, seeking to have the ruling declared unlawful. Many college students, even those who were not foreign students themselves, took to social media to express their opinions on the ruling.
Columna said he wishes people understood how hard it can be for immigrants to find their place in American society.
“Life is really complicated for certain people. And if we were to simply do the act of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes just for a second,” Columna said, “I think it can change our mindsets and our perception of things.”