For most of the past few decades, the Democratic Party has had a very clear stance on immigration. It prefers a mixture of enforcement (such as border security and the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes) and new pro-immigrant laws (such as an increase in legal immigration and a path to citizenship for undocumented people).
In recent years, however, an increasing number of immigration advocates and progressive Democrats have become dissatisfied with this combination. They pointed out that Democrats’ support for tighter border security did not lead to the two-party compromise it had to do: Republicans continue to block bills that provide a path to citizenship.
In response, these progressives and activists forced the party to change. Bill Clinton re-elected on a platform who said, “We can not tolerate illegal immigration, and we must stop it.” Barack Obama once said“We simply cannot allow people to flock to the United States unnoticed, undocumented, unchecked.” President Biden rather emphasized the humane treatment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status.
After he started, Biden started applying this idea. He halted a 100-day strike of deportations (which a judge blocked). He allowed more migrants – especially children – to enter the country, rather than being detained. And Central American migrants, who feel the U.S. has become more welcoming, are flocking northward in the largest number in two decades.
The boom seems to surprise the Biden administration, as Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute, who ran the immigration and naturalization service in the 1990s, told me. Republicans struck and accused the Democrats of favoring an ‘open border’.
Some Democrats are unhappy, too. Biden’s policy “stimulates the number of people to come, and the only way to slow it down is by changing the policy before us,” Representative Vicente Gonzalez of Texas told The Washington Post. Henry Cuellar, another Texas Democrat, said the government was sending a “terrible message.”
This is all due to the fact that the Democratic Party no longer has a clear policy on immigration.
Trump obscures debate
While Donald Trump was president, he eased the internal tensions of the Democrats because they were able to unite in opposition to him. Trump used racist language; Democrats hated it. Trump divorced families and locked children in cages; Democrats have promised to end the policy. Trump has said he will build a border wall, paid for by Mexico; Democrats mocked his failure.
With Trump out of office, however, the party faces tough, unresolved questions, including:
Do Democrats still favor the deportation of anyone? Some activists have criticized Obama as the “CEO.” But he focused on deportations on only two groups: recent arrivals and immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
If Democrats prefer a softer policy than Obama’s, it’s not clear whether they support the deportation of anyone – and whether they believe the human solution is that anyone who manages to enter the United States can remain legal or illegal. . The party’s 2020 platform does not mention any conditions in which deportation is acceptable. Biden’s attempt to stop deportations for 100 days underscores the party’s new stance.
Which migrants should be turned away at the border? And what should happen to them next?
There are no easy answers. One option is to prevent people from entering (as is currently the case with many adults traveling alone) – but this can create miserable conditions on Mexico’s side of the border. The second is to detain people in the US while their lawsuits are being considered – but children keep being loaded, and many Democrats are considering imprisoning immigrants similar to Trumpism.
A third option is to admit migrants and order them to appear at a future trial (as with many children and families). The adults often have to wear ankle bracelets. Yet the process is can take years and raise other thorny issues. Many migrants are not good asylum candidates; they come looking for work or to be close to family members, who do not necessarily qualify for legal entry.
Often the administration will still be left to decide to whom it is prepared to deport.
What is the progressive policy?
There are potential policy solutions to all of these questions. The US could increase legal immigration. It can build more detention facilities with human conditions. It could do more to improve conditions in Latin America and pressure Mexico to control its own southern border. The Biden administration follows many of these policies.
But if Biden and his associates seem to be less immigration-resistant than many other policy areas, there is a reason for this: is less resistant.
It seems unlikely that Congress will greatly increase legal immigration levels. And polls show that while public opinion is a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, it also prefers strict border security and the application of existing immigration laws.
I’m not even sure that these views should be described as conservative. Historically, very progressive support immigration restrictions as a way to keep U.S. wages high. Today, working-class Americans – including many Asian-American, black, and Latino voters – tend to impose more restrictions than progressive Democrats. who are often professionals who earn a lot, doen. This contrast may play a role in the recent gains of Republicans among minority voters.
“Unfortunately, the way the debate plays out too often feels like ‘Everyone should come and the border should be open’,” Cecilia Muñoz, a longtime immigration advocate and former Obama adviser, told me. “And that’s the thing that makes Americans anxious.”
One of the advantages of the old democratic approach to immigration was that it was easy to describe: Be firm on the border, be generous to people who have lived in the US for years. The new approach also has a lasting idea: be more welcoming to people who want to enter the country. But Democrats still have not set the limits of the idea, which created an early problem for the Biden presidency.
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