Frank Sharry: “Pushed by a movement demanding action, supported by a public that hungers for solutions, and backed by a party that stands united on these issues, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an opportunity to become a proudly pro-immigrant, pro-refugee administration.”
Yesterday, President-elect Biden committed to restoring America’s leadership on refugee issues, pledging to raise the annual refugee admissions target to 125,000. He said in an address to the Jesuit Refugee Service:
“The United States has long stood as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and the oppressed, a leader of resettling refugees in our humanitarian response. I promise, as president, I will reclaim that proud legacy for our country.
The Biden-Harris administration will restore America’s historic role in protecting the vulnerable and defending the rights of refugees everywhere and raising our annual refugee admission target to 125,000.
…The United States has long stood as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and the oppressed…in the stranger, we actually meet our neighbor.”
The refugee pledge comes on the heels of reports that Biden plans to move quickly to restore DACA, end the Muslim ban, and introduce legislation that would establish a path to citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants. For more on Biden’s plans for immigration policy, see recent pieces by Camilo Montoya-Galvez of CBS News and Alan Gomez and Daniel Gonzalez of USA Today.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post weighed in yesterday with an analysis titled, “Biden is already signaling big moves on immigration. That bodes well.” He provides insightful context to the news:
“Because immigration is an area that affords the executive a great deal of discretion, Biden can do many things on his own to undo the heinous legacy of President Trump and his senior adviser on this issue … [Biden’s immigration] plans are ambitious. And this bodes well, because it suggests at least the possibility that Biden won’t be trapped in an old, defensive political mind-set reminiscent of 1990s centrist Democrats … All this suggests that the Biden administration is not primarily viewing these reversals as politically treacherous territory to be carefully tiptoed around.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
“While the Republican shift to radical nativism is clear to all, an underreported immigration story is how Democrats have become a pro-immigrant party.
- In 2007 Rahm Emanuel called immigration a “third rail,” meaning that Democratic candidates in tough races would get scorched for touching it.
- In 2007, one-third of Senate Democrats voted against a right-wing version of comprehensive immigration reform because it contained a so-called “amnesty” component (in addition, a small number of progressive Senators opposed the bill because of anti-labor guestworker provisions).
- In 2009, the Obama administration put immigration reform – promised as a year one priority to Latino audiences during the 2008 campaign – on the back burner, and ramped up deportations to curry GOP support, which did not materialize.
- In 2012, Obama’s decision to grant DACA to immigrant youth was controversial within the administration.
Fast forward to today, and Democrats are leaning into immigration.
- Joe Biden made his signature campaign promise on immigration the introduction of a path to citizenship bill for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the early days of his administration.
- Trump and his campaign launched attacks on this Biden position in rallies and ads, but they fell flat because the public strongly supports a path to citizenship.
- Even though in 2019 House Democrats unanimously voted for a legalization bill benefiting those with DACA and TPS, the Dream and Promise Act (HR6), only a handful were attacked for doing so in the 2020 campaign, and none of those attacked lost their seats.
- In 2018, Trump nationalized the midterm races around “caravans and criminals” and GOP candidates mimicked Trump’s anti-immigrant attacks in races up and down the ballot. It backfired. Democrats won the House popular vote by the largest midterm margin in American history and regained control of the House of Representatives.
Among the myriad reasons for this shift, here are a couple that stand out to us.
- The pro-immigrant movement is stronger than ever, with grassroots activists not only insisting on immigrant justice but organizing electoral power to back up their demands (see 2020 results in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Colorado, and the Blue Wall states).
- Public opinion has never been more pro-immigrant, as Trump’s cruelty towards immigrants has compelled more Americans to choose a side, with stronger-than-ever majorities coming down on the side of immigrants.
- Democratic office holders and candidates have gotten better at dealing with immigration in an electoral context. Instead of throwing immigrants under the bus, Democrats now stake out clear, popular pro-immigrant positions early – anchored in values and solutions – and then defend them if and when attacked.
On an issue that used to divide the party, Democrats today are remarkably unified. Their positions – a path to citizenship, restoring DACA and TPS, ending family separation, helping farmworkers and other essential workers, renewing our commitment to refugees, and more – are strongly backed by the multiracial majority that just elected Biden-Harris by historic margins.
It now seems clear that fair and generous immigration policies are shifting from wedge issues to consensus positions. Pushed by a movement to take action, supported by a public that hungers for solutions, and backed by a party that stands united on these issues, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an opportunity to become a proudly pro-immigrant, pro-refugee administration.”