On the immigration issue, we must move from symbolism and promises to action
For years the issue of immigration reform has become nothing more than lip service in State of the Union speeches. Tuesday night President Joe Biden, in his second address about the status of the country, asked Republicans to make the issue a bipartisan one, like it used to be.
Foreshadowing that this will be an impossible task, he added: “If we don’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border and a pathway to citizenship for ‘Dreamers,’ those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.” Still, the reference to the immigration issue was extremely brief and rather vacuous.
Democrats continue to say that this reform is urgent, fair, and necessary; and Republicans continue to say that there will be no reform without border control. At the end of the day, nothing passes.
But within this concept of “nothing passes” exist the lives of millions of people who, with the power of their work, are the motor of hundreds of communities around the country, keeping schools, businesses, and hospitals running, on top of guaranteeing the generational relief this aging nation of immigrants needs.
Certainly, we must not ignore the reasons for this deadlock, nor that Republicans have been the main obstacle to advancing reform. But that does not justify the inaction or lack of will to invest political capital in some progress.
Tuesday night, as in previous occasions, the speech was not lacking in symbolism like Mitzi Colín López, the DACA beneficiary and activist from West Chester, Pennsylvania, invited by First Lady Jill Biden. It’s about U.S. citizens seeing the faces of those who would benefit from the elusive legalization. In prior opportunities Republicans have also made use of symbolism, but of the anti-immigrant variety, like inviting those who have lost a loved one at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, as if violence was exclusive to people without documents.
Basically, at this point symbolism should have already turned into concrete actions on the matter of immigration. We’ve seen this movie before, especially those who are directly impacted and need a response that allows them to benefit from the plenitude of this country that they have chosen to call home for themselves and their families.
Unfortunately, the reality is not very encouraging. Republicans control the House of Representatives and their agenda is focused on propagating conspiracy theories, promoted by white nationalists that say we are being “invaded” and that the border with Mexico is “out of control,” or that liberals want to “replace” Anglo-Saxon people with minorities in order to hoard political power.
In fact, one of their principal objectives is to impeach the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cuban-American Alejandro Mayorkas. And although survey after survey, such as the most recent NBC poll, show that most U.S. citizens support legalization of undocumented people who live among us and are an intrinsic and vital part of our economy, Republicans only want to rile up their MAGA base with dangerous invasion and replacement theories. That is, they want to impeach Mayorkas not because of the border problems—which have always existed—but because the leader is an immigrant, and the idea of a Latin American immigrant heading up one of the most important official institutions in the entire Cabinet simply does not fit inside the heads of the most extreme Republicans.
To that we have to add the fact that everyone is already in campaign mode, with eyes to the general elections in 2024, and there are issues that politicians deem “uncomfortable.” Immigration is no exception.
Biden is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, most of the matters he is trying to resolve through administrative and executive actions are tied up in the courts, as is the case with Title 42. Meanwhile, the policies he has implemented have not gone over well among many pro-immigrant sectors, who consider them to be an extension of the nefarious policies of his anti-immigrant predecessor, Donald Trump. The recently announced humanitarian parole program for citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua, which is supposed to control the flow of migrants seeking asylum, has reduced unauthorized crossings by 97% (according to the President). Yet, twenty states governed by Republicans want to block it in the courts.
This shows, once again, that Republicans will not cease their efforts to throw out any program or policy that benefits immigrants, despite the fact that it might work. Or, perhaps, the reason they oppose it is precisely because it works. It seems like division is their objective, not simply opposition.
Biden is not a neophyte on immigration issues, after spending nearly four decades in Congress and eight years as Vice President to Barack Obama, who promoted a reform that never became reality. And although he was pressured to create DACA, to this day only 600,000 people have benefited. With so many years having passed, with a new reality and different challenges for the Dreamers, the current situation seems like weak tea.
Symbolism and immigration promises must turn into action. Biden is asking for collaboration and bipartisanship from an extremist Republican Party that wants to bury him. It’s better to invest political capital in what can be achieved at the legislative level, such as the legalization of Dreamers, or the executive level like TPS for Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Actions that pave the way for that elusive reform.
Maribel Hastings is an executive advisor for America's Voice and David Torres is a Spanish-language media advisor for America's Voice.