If Republicans are truly worried about the supposed scourge of undocumented immigrants, they should start building that “big, beautiful door” on our borders that Donald Trump always talked about.
So now Senate Democrats are attempting a workaround. They’ve signaled that they’ll include a narrow subset of immigration issues in their forthcoming reconciliation bill, which could be passed with only Democratic votes.
Exact details are still being hashed out, but the bill is expected to contain a pathway to citizenship for certain categories of undocumented immigrants, including “dreamers” (unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children), those with temporary protected status (people from countries facing emergencies such as armed conflict or natural disaster), essential workers and farm laborers.
A majority of both Democratic and Republican voters support earned legalization of these groups, according to recent polls.
This legislative strategy is by no means a slam-dunk. Moderate Democratic lawmakers need to get on board, since passing the bill through the reconciliation process would require all 50 Senate Democrats’ votes. The biggest wild card, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), has already indicated his support, which seems promising.
The bigger hurdle involves legislative rules: The Senate parliamentarian must determine that these immigration measures are sufficiently budget-related to include in the reconciliation process. Legalizing millions of undocumented migrants would have some effect on federal budgets — for example, through more immigration application fees and taxes on legalized immigrants’ earnings. Activists also point to a 2005 reconciliation bill that included different immigration-related provisions. Even so, the parliamentarian may nix these particular measures.
None of this has stopped Republicans from preemptive scaremongering about the “illegal alien” hordes supposedly rushing our “open borders” to seize their “amnesty.”
“Democrats are trying to sneak mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants through Congress under the cover of their budget scheme,” warned Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
“The Democrats want to include a massive amnesty in that legislation,” echoed his colleague Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “That will simply act as a bigger magnet for more illegal immigration into this country.”
This is nonsense. First and foremost, the population eligible for legalization would likely be restricted to people who’ve already been here for some minimum period of time, rather than those contemplating coming, say, tomorrow. This is how that broader, Biden-backed bill works, and how previous legalization proposals have been structured.
More importantly, though, if these restrictionists are really so concerned about all the immigrants slipping in through the back door, the best solution is a more accessible, clearly monitored front door.
This was what the Trump administration once claimed it was doing: that it was building a wall to keep out the unauthorized, while constructing “a big, fat beautiful door right in the middle of the wall” so that immigrants could enter the “right way.” In reality, of course, Trump bricked off virtually every legal pathway to the United States, whether through humanitarian, family or work-related means. The administration did this by banning certain categories of migrants, rigging the eligibility criteria and creating obstacle courses of red tape. In general, the immigration system became more arbitrary and dysfunctional.
With authorized avenues effectively blocked, then, the only reliable way for many migrants to enter (or stay) was without authorization. Which is a bad outcome not only for them, but for any country that wants to know who’s coming and going.
By contrast, the Biden administration has (mostly) been trying to craft more organized, scrutinized, legal pathways to come to the United States. After some prodding, for instance, it eventually raised the cap on total refugees, who are among the most thoroughly vetted immigrants in the world. It also resurrected and expanded the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee and Parole Program, which allows U.S.-based immigrant parents or guardians with legal status to petition for their children’s resettlement here so that kids don’t attempt dangerous journeys with smugglers. (Trump had shut the program down.) The administration also increased the visa cap for temporary non-agricultural workers, and has been working to address some of the root causes that are pushing Central Americans to leave their homes.
But there’s only so much that the executive branch can do on its own. The country needs more immigration pathways that are fair, humane, fast, adequately screened, with clear and consistent eligibility criteria, and deliberately crafted to be in the country’s economic and national security interests. Such an overhaul requires an act of Congress, which has refused to do its duty for decades.
It’s been easier to keep the door closed.
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