The risk of Democrats kowtowing to Republicans on immigration

On December 20, 2022 we wrote the following, in a column titled “The Hot Potato Named Title 42”: “the Biden administration began January 2022 with the hot potato that is Title 42 and is ending the year the same way, without a light at the end of the tunnel not only for refugees, but for other millions who are already here, awaiting their own legalization.” It seems like it was just yesterday.

One day earlier, on December 19, 2022, the Supreme Court kept the controversial title 42 alive after a lower court ordered its suspension. The measure allowed the expedited removal of migrants, including people seeking asylum, citing health reasons.

Because while it is true that the Biden administration stopped applying Title 42 on May 11, 2022, it seems incredible that we find ourselves, just days before the end of 2023, with a package of restrictive migration measures being negotiated among Republicans, Democrats, and the White House itself, among which include something similar to Title 42, that would immediately expel migrants at the border, including people seeking asylum.

One step forward and a thousand back

It’s like having taken one step forward and a thousand back, in the supposed search for solution to a migration problem that is much more complex than attempting to block the human right to migrate and seek asylum, when the situation in migrants’ countries of origin has become chaotic and unlivable for economic, political, violent, and even climactic reasons.

All of that as part of a plan for assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, which Republicans have taken hostage in order to force Democrats to accept migration language that, among other things, would change asylum laws to ensure that fewer people obtain the benefit.

Because in reality and for the past decades, Republicans have blocked every legislative effort to approve immigration reform that deals with all of those issues. Now they are trying to use an emergency funding measure to advance their list of extremist proposals because it’s not about “securing” the border, as they claim, but exploiting the topic politically to help Trump with the base. The Democrats should play no part in this macabre political game.

But as of this writing no accord between the parties has been announced. However, Biden’s statements that he is inclined to make concessions to Republicans have generated disappointment, anger, and concern among some Democrats and pro-immigrant activists.

And the reasons are various, but what stands out the most is the irony that Biden staked his 2020 campaign and won election criticizing the excesses of ex-president Donald Trump on migration issues. But now, when he’s seeking reelection, he doesn’t seem to hesitate to revive those Trump policies, if that would supposedly free up aid to Ukraine.

Forgetting promises and repeating dissappoitments

Is that how Biden and the Democrats plan to win the votes of those who support pro-immigrant causes and back the idea of finally regularizing those millions of undocumented people who have given everything to this country? By forgetting their promises?

Well, they say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And for the politicians, immigrants seem to be the weakest, as it’s not the first time that the Democrats yield to pressure from Republicans, who don’t want any real solution and are only using the topic to inflame their base, in the middle of difficult negotiations.

For example, in 1996 Bill Clinton signed a welfare law that was harmful to immigrants with documents, although it was later amended. He also signed a nasty immigration law that gave rise to the deportation machine as we know it today.

In 2009, Barack Obama increased deportations, saying it was necessary in order to gain Republican support for the immigration reform he promised as a candidate; so much so that the president of UnidosUS, then known as NCLR, Janet Murguía, called him “Deporter-In-Chief.”

In that sense, Biden would also be approaching a place in history of immigration failures, a true path of no return that would nevertheless be burned in the memory of the electorate.

There is really not distinction? 

Indeed, we are entering another election year and the president will begin to look for support from the groups that formed his winning coalition in 2020, including Latinos. But if these immigration measures are codified in law, there’s really no distinction from Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

It’s always said that immigration is not one of the top issues for Latino voters, but in reality it’s a matter that defines the candidates. And for those millions of families with a mixed migration status—where undocumented people live under the same roof as citizens and voters—it becomes a crucial topic for their well-being. Since there are no alternatives on any side, not even those who traditionally say they back immigration issues, what are those families supposed to do? Obviously, crossing their arms is not an option.

“Those who have been here without papers for decades still do not see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.” Photo: Adriana Briff

So if the agreement is postponed until January, let’s pray that Biden and the Democrats understand very well what is at play, from a public policy point of view as well as an electoral one.

To read the Spanish version of this column click here.


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