Elizabeth Murrar is taking president-elect Donald Trump at his word on immigration.
The Milwaukee immigration attorney thought there might have been room for modernizing the current, outdated laws for more contemporary policies she favored with what had, at one time at least, seemed like the almost inevitable election of Hillary Clinton.
Then the world changed overnight.
From the first day of his candidacy, Donald Trump had left no reason to doubt that he would be finding common cause with Americans who thought that the U.S.’s immigration policies — rather than making it too difficult for people to come into the country — should be tightened even further.
Murrar said the message, from her perspective, couldn’t have been clearer.
“Think of that first Trump news conference,” she said. “He labeled Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists. He was setting up the immigrant community as the scapegoats for all of our problems.”
Aside from her diminished hopes for reform, Murrar said she has one overwhelming source of concern. In the last four years, she noted, 700,000 young immigrants have come forward to register with the government through DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. In exchange for their registration, and if they could pass a security check, the government agreed to not deport them or use their information to target any other family members living at the same address.
“I’m scared the Trump administration will use the DACA files to go after thousands of young people who followed the law and came in from the shadows,” Murrar said. “Any promise of protection was from the Obama administration and, when Trump is sworn in, all he has to do is sign a new executive order and the roundup can begin.”
“If Hillary Clinton had won, there might have been a chance for meaningful reform, but that won’t happen now,” said Murrar. “I’m afraid Congress will pass even stricter controls, which will make things even more difficult. The chance for any positive reform is gone.”
The clients and their stories are what motivate Murrar, who was honored as one of 30 Up and Coming Lawyers by the Wisconsin Law Journal in an event in September.
Murrar points to an Asian brother and sister who have lived in the Milwaukee area since they were toddlers. Both had 4.0-plus GPAs in high school and dream of medical careers.
Then there are the Mexican parents with three young children who were born on U.S. soil and thus are citizens. They are now terrified of being deported. Their youngest daughter is critically ill and in need of medical care almost daily. To stay in Milwaukee risks jail; to take their child home risks her life.
For Murrar, the immigration battle also hits close to home. Both her son, Jaimie, and his father, Rami, are Muslims. Trump’s original call for a ban on Muslims, including ones who are already American citizens, from entering the U.S. has left her wondering if they will be able to return to the country following a trip abroad.
“How can I risk my son and his father visiting relatives outside the country if we’re not sure either of them will be allowed back in?” she said.
If there is one reason for Murrar to be optimistic, it may be House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“He’s already spoken out against the wall and the Muslim ban. Ryan may be our best shot at stopping the extremists,” she said.
“If you have legal status file now,” she said. “Don’t make the mistake of waiting so Trump and his Congress can make the laws even worse.”
Immigration law most often encounters a labyrinth of delays; delays that run up legal bills and can last decades. And after the recent election, those frustrations may soon seem like the good old days.
In the days following the election, Murrar’s inevitable question about whether she should abandon her immigration practice was dismissed as quickly as it had crossed her mind. Now it might not just be an antiquated law that’s stacked against her clients. It could also be brand-new legislation backed by the full weight of the U.S. government.
“How do I walk away from these people?” Murrar questioned. “Who would be here to fight for them?”