Facing a Steep Hill on Immigration
Terry H,. Schwadron
Dec. 8, 2020
We already know that on Day One as president, Joe Biden has promised to re-issue protections for the DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) Dreamers and shortly thereafter, start in on shredding hundreds of White House orders from Donald Trump to limit immigration, legal or not.
Indeed, Biden has vowed that his government will find the still-missing children taken from their migrant parents at the border, will revert to much more lenient caps on immigration altogether, will renew asylum requests and will sponsor a legislative chance to reform the immigration system as a whole.
But other than nominating Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant himself and former Department of Homeland Security deputy, to run the agency, it seems clear that re-shaping immigration is going to be a long-term project with little Congressional agreement at its center.
The four years of anti-immigration tide under Trump has raised expectations for early progress on a more rational, effective and humane approach to immigration.
And, as both coronavirus vaccine becomes more widespread and climate changes continue to make areas of the world less inhabitable, Biden should have to recast the thinking towards policies that will accommodate new challenges on all borders.
None of the ill feelings towards refugees and immigrants that fueled Trump’s America First isolations have abated among his followers, there are long lines of backed up asylum cases on the border with renewed attempts waiting only for better coronavirus conditions, a passel of international complications and a business community that wants its share of immigrant visas to start flowing again.
Among other things, as Politico tells us, thousands of foreign doctors and nurses seeking entry are being held up exactly at a time when they could help to deal with coronavirus surges. An estimated 10,000 physicians are in the country on H-1B visas that currently restrict where they can work and 15,000 foreign nurses who haver applied to immigrate are stuck in limbo because of consulate closures and backlogs.
So, these immigrations questions are arising with simultaneous issues of health and safety, pent-up desires, unresolved legal issues and unleashed raw political fights just awaiting a go-sign.
Trump amassed more than 400 executive actions on immigration, and each has some constituencies that will claim relief or outrage upon change as well as a legal challenge from the ACLU and others. Beyond the policies themselves, there are a host of practical problems, from demoralized and overwhelmed border and court systems, to overcrowded detention facilities, to coronavirus issues, legal uncertainties, and tens of thousands of migrants with pending asylum claims waiting in lousy conditions in tent cities in Mexico.
Southern border patrols have been making upwards of 2,000 arrests and mostly deportations a day recently, as pandemic and hurricanes have wiped out jobs in already unsafe Central America. Legal immigration has been pinched to 15,000 a year, rather than the 125,000 that Biden says we should once again enforce.
And those kids are still missing, more than a quarter of those taken from families at the border.
But that’s easier said than done, as National Public Radio reported. “I don’t think it’s realistic that Biden in four years could unroll everything that Trump did,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, told NPR.
The outline of Biden’s plan covers 51 points and takes up 22 pages, but it does not account for a recalcitrant Senate. The efforts to build a nationwide border wall would end, but nothing Trump built would be removed, unlike travel bans, visa limitations and asylum hearings.
Who Are We?
At heart, Biden wants to restore the United States as a beacon to immigrants, and wants to enact a path to citizenship for those lacking legal documents. The election day results were cheered in immigrant communities, in self-declared sanctuary cities in the U.S., and in business board rooms where a constant stream of overseas coders is seen as a must-have.
Biden wants the Immigration and Customs Enforcement folks to concentrate on violent offenders rather than families and those who get a traffic citation.
The central questions about as much about values as practicalities.
Intentions to right whatever Trump ordered aside, it has become very clear that the U.S. immigration systems are dysfunctional and almost impossible for most people to navigate easily. Biden’s election provides a good opportunity to re-state clearly our goals, and for him to use his considerable bipartisanship skills towards building a new system that works.
Clearly, a Biden plan for a task force to look at better coordination among the many agencies with one foot in the immigration world is a necessity. Hopes among advocates for immigrants for major changes are strong, but so too is the expected pushback.
The climate crisis alone promises to remake global hunger and inhabitability, and will regenerate millions towards seeking paths for survival. Under Trump, the message was clear: Not here. We need a new statement that will survive more than four years.