Three years into the Trump administration, it’s become clear that we have lost our rudder. For a nation that long-provided a welcome mat to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, our immigration policies are not welcoming. They are punitive and isolationist.

We have seen a decrease in legal immigration alongside an historic increase in detention. Refugee admissions are at record lows and deaths in detention are at historic highs. Roughly 60,000 people are being made to wait months in perilous conditions in Mexico so they can apply for asylum in U.S. immigration courts. Hundreds of families continue to get separated at our border, despite clear evidence of lifelong trauma.

There are no signs that the administration will reverse course in 2020. To the contrary, 2020 has begun with new rounds of harsh, fear-based policies. Since January:

  • We have added six new countries to our travel ban, shutting our doors to millions of people who may want to visit or immigrate from a total of 13 countries. Many are Muslim-majority countries.
  • We have given new authority and guidance to government officials to scrutinize whether a woman wanting to visit the United States is pregnant. Officials can now draw conclusions about whether she intends to give birth in the country.
  • We announced plans to create new bars to asylum eligibility. This includes processes at the border that turn people away faster and without access to an attorney.
  • We planned to raise fees on applications for immigration benefits, making it beyond the reach of many to naturalize and integrate into American communities.
  • We began to consider more people a “public charge.” More people on a low income will now get denied visas and green cards.
  • We have promised to begin deporting Dreamers to unfamiliar countries if the Supreme Court allows DACA to be terminated.

With all the damage that’s been done, how do we right the ship?

We cannot return to what existed three years ago. Our immigration system has been far from perfect for many years. It’s in desperate need of modernization, greater accessibility, and alignment with the needs of a 21st century economy. But it also needs to represent our country’s core value of fairness so we can have an immigration system that makes Americans proud.

Our policies should be less punitive and offer more promise. Less fearful and more fruitful. Less worrisome and more welcoming.

We need to become a nation in which all people and communities thrive. To do that, we must holistically re-examine our approach to greeting and integrating the newcomer without alienating native-born Americans who feel left behind or disconnected in the face of demographic change. We must create greater opportunities for education, job training, positive interactions between newcomers and native-born. Only then does it become possible to envision a common future in which we can all have a seat at the table.

The state of immigration can and must change from what it is today. Our future depends on it.

Photo by the White House