107 Iowa L. Rev. 1 (2021)
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The immigration laws and policies of the United States from January 2017 through January 2021 serve as a cautionary example of what may happen when the rule of law and the equitable administration of justice are subverted by policymakers pursuing an extreme and coercive political agenda. For four years the Trump Administration used its lawmaking powers to isolate and terrorize immigrant communities. Simply put, the Trump Administration used immigration law as a tool of terror.

The same administrative structures and legal provisions that were originally created in the aftermath of 9/11 to combat terrorism and protect human rights were weaponized and turned against refugees, migrants, and naturalized U.S. citizens. The Department of Homeland Security was transformed from an organization dedicated to combatting terrorism to an organization that instead inspired terror in immigrant communities, particularly among immigrants of color. Inflammatory rhetoric, denigrating specific groups of migrants on the basis of their race, religion, and/or national origin shaped anti-immigrant legal measures, with catastrophic results. At the border and in the interior of the United States, immigration laws were reinterpreted, regulations were amended, executive decrees were issued, and terrifying rumors about potential new initiatives were perpetuated on a daily basis. In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the absence of stable and settled law, immigrant communities that were already living in extreme precarity experienced heightened and crushing uncertainty; in short, they were living in a state of constant terror.

The Biden Administration is now embarking on the project of reversing these damaging initiatives, rebuilding trust in immigrant communities, and restoring the global reputation of the United States. But the harm that has been done—to individuals, to communities, and to the law itself—will likely persist for many years. The Trump Administration’s changes to U.S. immigration law and policy illustrate the inherent fragility and malleability of existing legal protections for vulnerable and marginalized immigrant communities. Policymakers, legislators, jurists, and legal scholars must therefore work together in the months and years ahead to ensure that the tragedy of last four years is never repeated, by meaningfully reforming our immigration laws and restructuring the agencies charged with their administration.

Monday, November 15, 2021