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Vanessa Cárdenas Q&A in The Hill on Latest Re. Policy and Political Implications of Capitol Hill Negotiations

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Washington, DC America’s Voice Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas was featured in this week’s edition of The Hill newspaper’s “Morning Report” Four Questions, conducted by Alexis Simendinger. The full newsletter is available online here and below are key excerpts from the Q&A portion between Vanessa Cárdenas and Alexis Simendinger of The Hill: 

Alexis: On Tuesday, you wrote the White House is pursuing “a flat-out dumb path” toward immigration and border changes, which you described as “policy and political malpractice.” Strong words. Let me ask for a prediction: Do you believe President Biden’s recent offer to the GOP of “significant compromises on the border” is likely to unlock congressional approval of more aid for Ukraine, as he hopes?

[Vanessa]: I’m not in the prediction game but I’ll note that we have a two-decade track record of watching the Republican Party move the goalposts and negotiate in bad faith on immigration. Even if the White House and Senate agree on policies that, to our eyes, are pulled straight from [Trump adviser] Stephen Miller’s wish list, Speaker Mike Johnson and the House want even more, mainly their extreme HR-2 proposal

Our immigration system is broken. We’ve said that for decades and we urgently need to modernize it. But the notion that only Republicans get to define what policies should be on the table, that we should shoehorn that process into a supplemental funding debate, or that we should tie immigration to support for our Ukrainian allies is not the way to do policy on such a complex issue.

Alexis: You’ve long said the administration needed an immigration strategy and should “lean in.” What’s the administration’s immigration strategy, as you understand it this week?

[Vanessa]: Whiplash between policy directions and a lack of a well-stated and consistently articulated larger strategy unfortunately characterizes this administration’s immigration record. I don’t understand what the strategy was behind putting on the table these extreme proposals. Did they think the GOP would be satisfied? Why on earth would they think that? 

Alexis: Many Americans give Biden low marks for his handling of the border and immigration. What’s he risking, in your view, by reportedly being open to GOP calls for new authority for migrant expulsions without asylum screenings, expanded immigration detention and more deportations?

[Vanessa]: We think they are misreading both the policies and politics. On the policies — based on what we hear they are considering — the administration risks enacting permanent policy changes, the most restrictive in decades, perhaps the most restrictive in a century. These include renewed detention of kids, nationwide “expedited removal” (abbreviated deportations with limited access to legal counsel) and the end of legal parole programs. Such changes would be cruel, ineffective and shouldn’t be short-handed as “border security.” We think these would compound, not alleviate, border chaos and pressures.

Meanwhile on politics, embracing Republicans’ demands and Trump-Miller policies wouldn’t ratchet down ugly anti-immigrant attacks and related falsehoods that are likely to be featured by Republicans in 2024. The president isn’t going to win any new voters for Democrats and meanwhile threatens to dampen enthusiasm among the electorate he’s looking to energize. Younger voters, women, Latinos, progressives and other people of color do not support the one-sided approach of opposing immigration and expanding deportations. These are key constituencies Democrats need during a reelection campaign. 

Alexis: A majority of Americans say immigration is a “good thing” for the U.S., but more than 60 percent say they’re dissatisfied with today’s level of migration into the country. As long as public opinion remains splintered, are pro-immigrant policies backed by America’s Voice impossible to enact?

[Vanessa]: Broadly, the public wants reform instead of the status quo and their desire for an orderly system and border security does not translate into majority support for deterrence-or-enforcement-only approaches, or slashing legal immigration. In January, President Biden said we cannot successfully stop people from coming, but can incentivize them to come to ports of entry and through orderly, legal channels in compliance with U.S. law. He should stick to that strategy. 

Despite the relentless attacks on immigration, strong majorities still support citizenship for long-time, settled immigrants like Dreamers. Democrats and the president should be confident that they’re on the side that favors legal immigration because it reduces illegal immigration. Republicans, who oppose legal immigration by and large, are the party fighting to maintain chaos and illegality.

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