Let's be clear about one thing: President Barack Obama did little or nothing to move the needle on comprehensive immigration reform.
It was the most conspicuous promise that he failed to keep during his eight years in the White House, and a grave disappointment for all the immigration groups who felt strongly that he would deliver some measure of comprehensive reform.
“With Obama, we thought he was going to walk on water, and he threw us under the bus,” said Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration lobbying group.
So irrespective of Donald Trump’s stated immigration policies, it is not like we are emerging from a golden era where immigration was first and foremost on the mind of the outgoing president. The fact is that the Obama administration deported a record 2.5 million immigrants since 2009.
Nonetheless, there are legitimate fears that with Trump as president, the number of undocumented to be deported will skyrocket.
Trump claims that he will deport between two and three million undocumented, but as The New York Times writer Amy Chozick pointed out, of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants, only 820,000 have criminal records, this according to the Migration Policy Institute.
What does this mean for immigration reform under President Trump? Does it mean, as some fear, the return of widespread workplace raids and the expansion of the term “criminal” to those who commit minor misdemeanors like traffic infractions?
We certainly hope not, but the fact that the U.S. attorney general is likely to be Senator Jeff Sessions, perhaps the most hardline of all the 100 senators on the matter of immigration, does not bode well.
Sessions has made it clear that removing undocumented immigrants will be a major policy objective if he is confirmed as attorney general, which is no sure thing given his dubious record on race relations and past inflammatory statements.
What does this mean for the Irish undocumented? The reality is that Trump has also sent out mixed signals on this issue, and could be much less hardline than his statements up to now have made him sound.
Responsible Republicans know that a balanced immigration policy, which supplies the workforce to many U.S. industries that do not have enough workers, and tackles the undocumented issue forcefully, is their best way forward.
As a former employer of undocumented immigrants, Trump is perfectly aware that the need for such workers is paramount to many industries.
In his most optimistic statements, he has spoken about a different categorization of immigrants, similar to Canada and Australia where education and life skills are more important than family ties.
Such a policy would likely have a positive impact for Ireland, given the highly educated workforce that the country has to offer.
The question comes down to, how hardline will Trump be on the issues that got him to the White House now that he is actually in power?
Many presidents, Obama included, have come into office vowing to deal with the issue of immigration once and for all. But the reality is that the political space is littered with failed reform bills from both sides of the divide over the last 20 years.
Yet for someone like Trump, who craves a reputation for solving problems, nothing will be more successful for him than an immigration policy that works.
A single focus on enforcement will fail. What is needed is a balanced approached.
But let us be clear again: Obama did little on this issue, and it will be up to Trump to prove he can accomplish more.