tags: Press Releases

Getting the Politics of Immigration Right

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Vanessa Cárdenas: “Ultimately, what we need is to overhaul and reform our immigration system to legalize people who are here; provide legal pathways for future migration based on our needs; and pursue larger ongoing strategies to help stabilize home countries and the region.”

Washington, DC – The Biden administration is facing wicked cross-currents on politics and policy on immigration, including rising concern about dissatisfaction from Democratic allies, the challenges of an unprecedented exodus in Venezuela and the difficulty of managing the complexities of 21st century migration within the confines of a fundamentally broken immigration system that Republicans refuse to help modernize.

As we noted yesterday, there are a series of policies that the Biden administration can pursue – and in some cases are already pursuing – that can make a meaningful difference in the short and longer-term (we share them again below as well). Meanwhile, instead of helping broker solutions, Republicans are openly rooting for a perpetual crisis and chaos for political purposes, including shouting “open borders” disinformation at every chance.

In this context and judged by the chaotic and contradictory mix of policies the administration has recently unveiled (from TPS on the positive side to border wall construction on the negative), below are key thoughts on the politics of immigration from America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas:

“The U.S. is facing a uniquely complex set of policy and political challenges on immigration, yet what we are lacking from this White House is a clearly articulated plan and a coherent set of policies addressing the policy and domestic politics of the migration issue.

One, the White House needs to articulate a larger vision for immigration and the border. Given the reality that Republicans prefer the broken immigration system and chaos for political reasons, the White House has an opportunity to level with the American people, and articulate that the President has a plan and is taking steps to accomplish that strategy. The President has limited options within current law, but he is already taking steps to address the unprecedented demand for safe migration and manage it on behalf of the country with a whole of government approach. In the absence of a clearly articulated strategy, the individual policy changes that have been rolled out over the past several weeks and throughout his presidency look like a grab bag. Yet there is a larger story that they can and must tell that highlights their vision for short-term order and longer-term stability (see below for our recap of key policy recommendations).

Two, the President should draw clear contrasts between real solutions he is pursuing and the politicization, perpetual chaos and division embraced by Republicans. Republicans are demanding that in exchange for keeping the government open to serve the American people and defending Ukraine from the Russian invasion, we must make radical changes to 40-plus years of asylum and refugee policies on a spending bill. On the policies Biden is employing to address the border, asylum and immigration in the short-run, Republicans are seeking to block or overturn programs that are advancing orderliness and legality (such as parole pathways) all while preventing the United States from fixing and modernizing our entire immigration system through their ongoing legislative obstruction. There are no shortage of examples of Republicans’ preference for ugly politics over real solutions – including their increased reliance on dangerous conspiracies and ‘open borders’ misinformation and their fealty to Donald Trump and his increasingly violent, antisemitic, and dangerous policy and rhetoric. In a battle of Biden’s balanced solutions versus Republicans making things worse, the President can win on both policy and political grounds.

Finally, reliance on Republican-lite deterrence policies – including and especially those with symbolic importance such as the border wall – won’t work, won’t curry political favor with Republicans, and will alienate key allies. The administration’s unfortunate rollout and defense of the border wall construction news this week is a good example – despite protestations that their hands were forced, they are advancing a failed and wasteful policy that doubles as one with outsized symbolic importance for progressives and Democrats who are rightfully angry that such a Trumpian approach is being advanced.

Ultimately, what we need is to overhaul and reform our immigration system to legalize people who are here; provide legal pathways for future migration based on our needs; and pursue larger ongoing strategies to help stabilize home countries and the region. Getting this balance right will give us greater control over who is here, who is coming, and how we manage migration moving forward. Yet the failure to aggressively define and defend this larger vision will not only threaten the viability of this policy agenda but the range of other priorities and political power Democrats care about.”

Recommended Policies for the Biden Administration

There is a concrete set of policies the Biden administration can pursue – and in many cases are already pursuing – that can make a meaningful difference, including: 

  • Getting immigrants to work, filling worker shortages and building a stronger economy is clearly the place to start and recent TPS redesignations and work permit reforms will help. 
  • Safe and orderly pathways and parole programs to take pressure off of the border, more refugee slots, TPS for additional countries and surging resources into asylum and work permit processing smooths the path from arrival to self-sufficiency. 
  • More public and private initiatives are needed to get people signed up for work permits and a fair adjudication of their asylum claims. 
  • Meanwhile, state and local leaders are also requesting greater funding from Washington, greater coordination between federal and local agencies, addressing housing and shelter shortages that go beyond immigration issues and funding for NGOs that are doing a lot of the work.
  • Taking these steps will also increase orderliness and decrease chaos at the border and in states and cities receiving new arrivals. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, for example, laid out a series of achievable, concrete steps Washington can take to help his state that should be taken seriously.
  • The question is whether we step up and provide safety and a legal process to families and individuals fleeing untenable situations and take steps to incorporate new men and women willing to work hard for a better future into our communities in a way that makes us all stronger.