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Memo: Three Key Points About Migration and Modernizing Our Immigration System

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May 11 represents the overdue official lifting of Title 42 – a public health law repurposed during the Trump Administration to deter asylum seekers and migration. Misusing a public health law in this fashion was a band-aid approach that led to chaos and inhumanity.

The end of Title 42 as an immigration measure will likely mean a near-term increase in the volume of individuals and families seeking asylum and refuge. Yet the responsible course isn’t to focus exclusively on the volume of arrivals, but instead to wrestle with how we can manage migration in a humane, orderly and ultimately beneficial fashion and modernize a fundamentally broken immigration system. This is not a debate about numbers and optics, but solutions and values and real people. Below are three key points to inform coverage of the current moment and beyond, each of which is explored in more detail in the following pages.

  • What does a smart and affirmative policy vision for managing regional migration look like?
  • Why the current dysfunction calls for a larger legislative overhaul and modernization that Republicans continue to block – they prefer the chaos of a broken system for political reasons
  • The American public overwhelmingly wants immigration reform and strongly backs a balanced approach instead of GOP, enforcement-only focus

Point 1: What does a smart and affirmative policy vision for managing regional migration look like? 

The Biden administration, leading elected officials, and outside experts and advocacy organizations have issued an array of blueprints in recent weeks trying to chart a responsible and balanced course toward managing migration in humane and orderly fashion. The solutions for this issue are within our grasp – and the American people agree on them. This is not a debate that begins or ends at our southern border. Of special note:

The positive and the troubling from the Biden administration

  • Positive from the Biden administration: The Biden’s administration’s April 2023 announcements to expand legal pathways, create new regional refugee processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia, and expand family reunification for key countries are important steps forward centered on creating legal channels to alleviate border pressures so that people are able to migrate safely with a visa instead of dangerously with a smuggler.
  • Troubling from the Biden administration: Despite the positive components of their “sweeping” vision, we remain concerned it is an imbalanced approach and erects new barriers to fair asylum access and a punitive set of measures meant to deter people from migrating in the first place. Blunt, deterrence-only policies continue to misread the fundamental realities and drivers of migration and asylum. Read the assessment from America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas on the Biden administration’s April 2023 policy announcement on managing regional migration here

Other thoughtful affirmative visions from leaders and experts

Point 2: Why the current dysfunction calls for a larger legislative overhaul and modernization that Republicans continue to block – they prefer the chaos of a broken system for political reasons

On the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate with 68 votes but was later killed by House Republicans, we are still paying a price for GOP obstruction and their continued blocking of a legislative overhaul we need. They aren’t interested in solutions to manage migration or a larger immigration overhaul to modernize a broken system. For political reasons, they prefer the chaos of the broken status quo and hardline policies to keep out and kick out immigrants and asylum seekers. 

Ten years after 2013 near-miss, a legislative modernization of immigration is still desperately needed. 

  • The 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation reflected a compromise, both/and approach and would have provided new legal pathways and visas; a path to citizenship for Dreamers, farm workers and the undocumented population; and resources and staffing to support an orderly border. 
  • Over the past decade, we have implemented almost all of the border enforcement measures, but our system continues to buckle under the weight of too few visa options and legal channels.
  • Republicans continue to obstruct broader legislative solutions (see here for an assessment of the number of times Republicans have blocked legislative fixes since 2013). 
  • While blocking balanced solutions, Republicans now support cutting legal immigration and ending DACA and TPS, while blocking solutions for Dreamers and other long-settled undocumented immigrants.
  • To justify their opposition and obstruction, the GOP relies on their perpetual “border security first” and “operational control” canards – as excuses to always get to “no” on broader reforms we need and they block. By the “operational control” standard the GOP outlines, even the Berlin Wall wouldn’t have qualified as a “secure” border.

Despite decrying supposed border chaos, Republicans are opposed to policies that alleviate pressures on the border. In addition to their role blocking the 2013 immigration modernization bill, Republicans continue to oppose policies that reduce border pressures and support policies that dismantle legal pathways and alternatives to the trek to the U.S. southern border

  • Witness the GOP’s condemnation of the Biden administration’s April 2023 announcements or see that Republican states are currently suing to block the parole program that opens up new, safer pathways for asylum seekers fleeing from four countries – Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti – each either an authoritarian regime or a destabilized nation.
  • Republicans also now oppose and, during the Trump administration, helped dismantle multiple policies that help migrants and asylum seekers avoid the dangerous trek to U.S. border, including by cutting aid to Central America; ending the Central American Minors (CAM) program that allows minors to apply for protection in the region; forcing asylum seekers into squalid settlements and dangerous conditions in northern Mexico; and slashing refugee resettlement. 
  • And Republicans’ legislation currently moving through the House amounts to a wishlist of measures to curtail asylum, block legal avenues, and detain immigrants, but it is all performative as this legislation will not pass the Senate.

The GOP seems more interested in continuing a broken and chaotic status quo for political reasons 

  • It’s all about politics – remember a right wing drumbeat started blaming Biden’s policies for a rise in border encounters occurring during the Trump presidency. The GOP attempt to “blame Biden” shows their motivations are more about partisan talking points than real substance. 
  • In fact, Fox News and the GOP’s anti-immigrant political attacks are contributing to misinformation. They are the leading purveyors of false “open borders” disinformation – right wing media and GOP are spending the equivalent of millions of dollars to amplify the false “open borders” message. Read an America’s Voice memo on the details and implications: HERE and read the accompanying exclusive in Vanity Fair HERE
  • It contributes to border chaos and empowers smugglers and bad actors to exploit desperate migrants and asylum seekers who are fleeing their countries of origin

Point 3: The American public overwhelmingly wants immigration reform and strongly backs a balanced approach instead of GOP, enforcement-only focus

There are common threads between Americans’ immigration sentiments that unite a strong majority of the country: a desire for reform instead of the broken status quo and policy solutions that balance border control and an orderly process for new arrivals with strong support for citizenship for the undocumented population. 

Several recent polls have underscored the public’s overwhelming support for BOTH border security AND legal pathways and citizenship

  • Global Strategy Group for The Immigration Hub and VotoLatino (Battleground state polling – April 2023) underscored that voters see the immigration system as deeply broken – and want Washington to act. They also want a balanced solution that is secure AND humane; they want both border security and a pathway to citizenship. 
  • Bulfinch Group nationwide polling for National Immigration Forum (Nationwide polling, March 2023) found that by a 76-14% margin, registered voters supported: “Republicans and Democrats working together on immigration reforms that strengthen border security, allow immigrants brought to the United States as children to earn citizenship, and ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
  • Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies for NBC News (Nationwide January 2023) found overwhelming support for both citizenship and border security. By an 80-18% margin, respondents supported “providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.” By a 72-25% margin, respondents supported “addressing immigration by increasing funding for border security.”
  • Midterm Election Voter Poll (12,000+ sample November 2022) found strong preference for balanced, “citizenship and border” reform package instead of GOP enforcement-only policy. In the Midterm Election Voter Poll, for example, by a 57-43% margin, respondents preferred a policy that paired citizenship and border security instead of the “enforcement first” approach.

Concluding Thoughts

America can manage migration and live up to our best traditions as a welcoming nation. Modernizing our immigration laws, not relying on a public health fig leaf, is the right approach. America can manage migration effectively, protect refugees and asylum seekers who need protection and govern our border with both order and justice, recognizing that immigration is one of America’s great advantages over other nations.