WASHINGTON D.C. – The Republicans are carping about a border crisis because President Biden ordered a halt to deportations and is letting some of the estimated 5,000 unaccompanied minors at the border join family members who are already in the U.S.
But Biden didn’t create a crisis at the border. He inherited one. According to the Washington Post, illegal crossings surged repeatedly during Trump’s term. For example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported sharp increases in arrests along the border in October and November. More than 69,000 arrests were made in October 2020, the highest number for any October since 2005.
In December the US Border Patrol arrested 71,000 migrants. In January agents arrested 75,000 and 62,000 were adults, mostly men seeking work.
Between March 20, 2020 and February 4, 2021, 38% of all border patrol encounters were people who had been arrested more than once for crossing. In other words, when migrants were released back across the border, almost half just turned around and tried again.
That is the situation Biden has inherited.
But that didn’t stop House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy(R, CA) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from travelling to the Rio Grande last month and pointing fingers at the White House.
The fear mongering made headlines and it may be the reason Biden hasn’t signed executive orders to restart flights to the U.S. from refugee camps where families have been waiting for years to restart their lives in America.
As a candidate, Biden promised sweeping legislation to overhaul immigration laws. If there is one thing Republicans and Democrats agree on, it’s that the U.S. immigration system is broken. They disagree about how to fix it.
The Biden administration introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 in February. In March, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters that immigration reform must wait until the White House acts to stem the tide of illegal immigration at the border. This is pure posturing. Illegal immigration has been a problem for decades and without comprehensive reform of immigration laws, it will continue.
“It has been nearly 35 years since the last time legislation provided a pathway to citizenship was passed, “ said Jose Muńoz, spokesperson for United We Dream, a national network of young immigration activists.
The sweeping overhaul Biden promised remains unfulfilled because of Republican obstructionism and not enough Democrats are willing to vote for it either.
But two immigration reform bills have passed in the House. HR 6, the Dream and Promise Act, and HR 1603, the Farmworkers Modernization Act. Both garnered enough bipartisan support to pass. The bills were the result of negotiations between farm grower groups, farmworker unions, and immigrant advocacy organizations.
Senate companion bills have not been introduced yet but will be soon. The Senate will make changes to the House bills and then the Senate versions would return to the House to be reconciled.
Although not as comprehensive as Biden’s big bill to overhaul the entire system, these two separate pieces of legislation would legalize about 5 million undocumented immigrants.
“The majority of Democrats and Republicans in polls definitely support legalization for the Dreamers. And there is a lot of bipartisan support for improving the conditions and the visas for farmworkers in the U.S. and allowing them to legalize,” said Theresa Brown. She is managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
Brown said members of both parties play to their base and that it remains to be seen if politicians would stop grandstanding long enough to move the bills forward. Some experts think overhauling the entire immigration system will not happen soon, if at all.
Brent Renison has been an immigration lawyer for 24 years. During that time, he managed to change immigration law a bit by tucking small changes into appropriation bills. He said the entire system is unfair and grossly inefficient.
“For more than a decade the priority dates, the peoples’ place in line, has moved so slowly that now families who brought their children here before elementary school, they are now finding that their children are turning 21 years old,” Renison said.
The Supreme Court ruled those children cannot use their parents’ priority date, (the date of their earliest immigration petition), and when they turn 21, they have to start all over again with a new immigration petition.
“There are a lot of blended families with lots of people who have U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident relatives and they have been waiting for years and years to legalize. And in the meantime they have to stay with their families so that forces undocumented immigration. Per country limits and the artificially low quotas are really the root causes of these problems,“ he said.
Renison hopes but doubts Congress will overhaul the entire immigration system.
“If you want to pass this kind of legislation you cannot rely on the Republicans. The filibuster must be reformed and it has to be a Democrat-only effort because if you rely on trying to get 10 Republicans, the bill will be so different from what it is now, it will be unacceptable to the other side. It is not possible in my view to have a bipartisan bill pass. It has to be filibuster reform and passage with a mere majority with Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote.”
Renison may well be right. While President Biden has talked about unity and solving problems together, all Republicans voted against the American Rescue Act just last month. Fixing immigration is easier said than done. Hardcore Republicans accuse the Democrats of wanting to open the borders and let anyone in. Ideally, they would like to close it or open it to wealthy foreigners only. Liberal Democrats accuse the Republicans of nativism and xenophobia. Ideally, they would like to increase quotas and streamline procedures for family members to immigrate. It’s hard to imagine two sides further apart.
This story was brought to you by the Blue Cross Foundation of California and Ethnic Media Services.