U.S. Election Aftermath: A Review of the U.S. Political System and How Laws Change

Election in United States of America. Voter holds envelope in hand above vote ballot. USA flags in background. Democracy concept.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States of America. In the wake of this election, immigration attorneys across the U.S. have faced an outpouring of phone calls and emails asking the same question: How does the result of this election affect my immigration status in the U.S.?

In this time of concern, it is critical for foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike to understand how the U.S. government actually functions, how these processes relate to our American history, and what this means for the future of the U.S. immigration system.

Separation of Powers
America was founded in direct response to the sting of oppression and persecution from foreign governments and monarchies. To prevent against the emergence of centrist and authoritarian regimes in the U.S., our early founders enacted the system of “separation of powers.” Under this model, the government is divided into three distinct branches of power:

  1. Executive: Branch of the President, Vice President, Cabinet, independent Federal agencies, and other departments and boards;
  2. Legislative: Also known as “Congress,” which consists of the officials elected to the Senate and House of Representatives; and
  3. Judicial: Branch of the U.S. court system.

In turn, government responsibilities are divided among these branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.  To most effectively promote liberty, these three powers must function separately and act independently. In effect, this thwarts the concentration of power into any one branch and instead endorses “checks and balances” within the system.

The Powers of Each Branch
The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and it also grants substantial investigative powers. Congress also has the sole power to ratify any treaty involving trade (e.g. NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP, etc.).

Congress is the only branch of government that can create new laws or change existing laws. The President and his Executive Branch, on the other hand, are vested with the power to implement and enforce the laws enacted by Congress. This is a vastly important distinction.

Executive Branch agencies issue may regulations, but only under the authority of laws that Congress has enacted. The President has the power to veto bills Congress passes, but Congress may also override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Among other things, the Judicial Branch is empowered to overturn unconstitutional laws created by Congress and implemented by the President. 

How a Bill Becomes a Law
After being introduced by a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate, a bill is referred to an appropriate committee for review, where it may be accepted, amended or rejected entirely. If the subcommittee agrees to move a bill forward, the bill is then reported to the full committee, where the same process is repeated. Here, the committees and subcommittees call hearings to investigate the merits and flaws of the bill. If the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is reported to the floor of the House or Senate. It will then undergo a debate process on the bill.

A bill must pass both houses of Congress before it goes to the President for consideration. The final text of the bill is then sent to the President, who will usually sign the bill into law or veto the bill and send it back to Congress. Congress may amend the bill or override the veto with a two-thirds vote of each chamber, at which point the bill becomes law and is printed.

The Future of the U.S. Immigration System
Donald Trump and his political allies have proposed major policy changes to enforce current regulations in place to protect U.S. workers and to discourage unlawful entries. However, it is crucial to recall that Congress, not the President, has the sole authority to enact or amend legislation. As set forth above, wherever there is a threat to our separation of powers, “checks and balances” remain in place to ensure each branch of the government adheres to its own limitations. 

In the meantime, do not be discouraged to travel to the U.S. You may continue to work and live in the U.S. if you have been authorized to do so. Your immigration status has not been harmed.

Donald Trump’s presidency will begin upon his inauguration in January. If, at that time, the new Congress wishes to pass laws relating to immigration, please remember that the lawmaking process is complex and lengthy. Radical changes will not occur overnight, and usually do not occur at all. 

Berardi Immigration Law will continue to closely monitor and share any U.S. immigration updates. Be sure to check back frequently for the most current information!

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