I have recently argued that Joe Biden’s immigration policy is incoherent for two good reasons. First, he’s trying, as he must, to appeal to both his progressive base and to swing voters he also needs. Second, he’s dealing with a Homeland Security bureaucracy that largely sympathizes with former president Trump’s policy of discouraging Black and Brown immigration by ruthlessly inhumane practices. I further argued that the best way to deal with those two problems is to set forth a coherent policy that can be systematically implemented.
This essay is intended to contribute to that end. It takes off from a critique of Trump’s immigration policy from a year and a half ago.
Every wave of immigrants began by confronting nativist discrimination, fear and hatred; each has in the end contributed its genius.
A progressive immigration policy starts with the premise that America is strengthened, not weakened by immigration. Every wave of immigrants began by confronting nativist discrimination, fear and hatred; each has in the end contributed its genius.
These essential elements mark a progressive immigration policy.
First, explicitly and completely end Trump’s inhumane and illegal asylum policy. Everyone who comes to this country seeking asylum from danger in their home country should be provisionally admitted and allowed to reside anywhere in the country pending a hearing. Petitioners should have the right to counsel. A realistic perspective on the conditions actually prevailing in the home country must be part of the evidence. Persons denied asylum should be permitted appeals through the federal court system, up to the Supreme Court. Those granted asylum should be eligible for citizenship on the same basis as regular immigrants. The battle against the coronavirus should not be an excuse for excluding asylum-seekers from Central America: it is after all a global pandemic, and the incidence of the disease is actually lower there than here.
Indeed, second, every person arriving at the border, whether seeking asylum or not, should be admitted, scheduled for a hearing, and dispersed around the country in order the minimize the impact on border communities.
Third, provide a path to citizenship to the “dreamers” who were brought to this country undocumented as children, have grown up here, often knowing neither the language nor the culture of their native countries. If they have been working, paying taxes and staying out of trouble, they should be able to gain citizenship.
Fourth, regular immigration should be systematically tied to known employment opportunities that correspond to the qualifications of the immigrants. Once they are legal residents, immigrants should have access to public services such as food stamps, public housing assistance, or unemployment compensation. Many past immigrants have gone through some hard times before successfully establishing themselves. We should facilitate that,
Fifth, we should welcome those who wish to study in our schools and universities, and should allow those who complete their studies successfully to establish legal residency and eligibility for citizenship. We should welcome their talents.
Thus will we finally honor Emma Lazarus’ immortal line: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Admit everyone at border, schedule hearings, disperse.