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A New Day on Immigration: America’s Voice Responds

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The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Today marks a new day for the nation, a confident embrace of foundational American ideals, and a sea change in policy affecting immigrants and refugees in America.

As the Day One legislative proposal and executive orders on immigration underscore, President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris offer a dramatic and welcome departure from the racism and xenophobia of the Trump era. The cornerstone of the Biden-Harris approach is to put 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. This is a rare point of overwhelming consensus among a divided electorate, with some three quarters of Americans in support. 

As we highlighted yesterday, the reasons for these bold moves on immigration comes from the fact that the tectonic plates have shifted:  

  • Public opinion: Trump’s nativism backfired. His cruelty forced a choice, and a solid majority came down on the side of immigrants. Gallup 2020 polling showed support for immigrants and for increasing immigration levels — questions they have been asking since 1965 — is at its highest level ever. Pew Research 2020 polling found that 60% believe the growing number of newcomers strengthen American society while 37% say they threaten traditional customs and values – a whopping 14 percentage point shift in the pro-immigrant direction in just the past four years. 
  • Electoral politics: Republicans have wielded immigration as a potent wedge issue for 25 years. Xenophobic attack ads have become a staple of GOP campaigns (see our just-released report, GOP Ad Wars in 2020: Divisive, Anti-immigrant and Racist). But now, nativism as a wedge issue is losing its edge. In the last election, Biden was attacked in ads for supporting “amnesty.” So were Democratic Representatives Conor Lamb and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania. So was Mark Kelley of Arizona. They all won. Why? Our pollsters at GSG asked in battleground states. Their take: “few voters – and even fewer swing voters – find this to raise doubts about voting for Biden, even though many believe the line to be true. That’s because voters largely support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Remember 2018 and the caravans? It backfired, big time, with Democrats winning the largest midterm victory in American history. 
  • Movement power: The immigrant justice movement has changed the terms of the debate. No longer willing to accept endless increases in enforcement, the movement has increasingly demanded and won a bold rethink of the past decade’s hyper-enforcement. Add the growing power of bottom-up electoral power authored by many in our movement — highlighted by the 2020 upsets in Arizona and Georgia — and Democrats are leaning forward on race and immigration as never before. 
  • Biden’s superpower: Biden’s legislative experience and political skills enable him to find the sweet spot in the Democratic coalition — the zone that carefully calibrates progressive and moderate priorities. He’s done just this on immigration: no to the old “comprehensive immigration reform” framework, yes to legalization for the 11 million as the top priority; no to the mantra of ever increasing border security and control; yes to smart border management and efficient governance; no to ripping kids from their parents, forcing refugees into dangerous conditions in Mexico, and the mass incarceration of families seeking freedom, yes to root cause alleviation in Central America, expanded legal pathways from the region, fair asylum rules for those who come to the border, and ramped up case management supports – instead of mass detention – for those pursuing their cases. 

As we begin the arduous task of cleaning up the huge mess left by Trump and Stephen Miller, we thank the Biden-Harris administration for keeping their promises to act with urgency. This boldness is what will be required if we are to succeed in undoing Trump’s cruelty and replacing the chaos with a fair, humane and functional immigration system. 

We look forward to working with the new President and Vice-President, our champions and supporters in Congress, and the multiracial majority in America that strongly support the enactment of long overdue policy changes rooted in the best of our values.