Maribel Hastings and David Torres
It’s a race against time for immigration legislation as Congress prepares to recess for five weeks beginning in August. This comes ahead of the midterm elections where the Democrats’ control of both chambers of Congress is in play.
Is there any possibility that something “real” on the immigration front could advance before the current Congress is over? The bills are there; it just remains to be seen if there is sufficient political will to bring them to fruition.
One adverse attempt at legislation, the extension of the Trump era’s Title 42—which expels individuals before they can even request asylum in the United States—is a Republican proposal that has gained the support of various Democrats. Despite their efforts, there are also two positive measures to legalize Dreamers and qualifying farm workers that are on the list of pending matters for the Senate which Congress may consider.
The summer recess receives special attention in an election year for a powerful reason: it’s very rare that Congress approves measures when it returns in September, especially controversial ones, as the entire House of Representatives (435 seats) and a third of the Senate (34 of the 100 seats) are embroiled in political campaigns. In the event there is a change in leadership, the party that wins is always reluctant to collaborate with the party that loses.
Therein lies the urgency to reach out to those communities who have had to move from one place to the next in search of refuge… to those who have already settled but whose acceptance is flimsy. It’s vital to reach out to those who, despite knowing how essential they are to sustaining the socio-economic dynamic of U.S. agriculture, are usually made invisible by anti-immigrant rhetoric, the same that has evolved into a disgusting and dishonest campaign based on the racist “invasion” conspiracy theory.
The Republicans are currently very confident that they will snatch either or both legislative chambers from the Democrats, so they feel no incentive to collaborate and produce measures, especially if it’s not their perceived interest, like immigration.
Is there any possibility that something “real” on the immigration front could advance before the current Congress is over?
To sum it up, any bill that is not approved in the days before the summer recess or when Congress returns for the (lame duck) session, it is highly unlikely to see the light of day before their term ends, which is officially on January 3, 2023. If there is a change in power, the next Congress will have to start with new leadership. For the already mistreated migrants this scenario would be even less beneficial, since the conservative party that still backs Trumpism has done and will do everything possible to ensure that no Democratic initiative is approved.
For example: Donald Trump, using the pandemic as an excuse, activated the controversial Title 42 with the intent of deporting asylum seekers from the United States, leaving them no choice but to make their case from outside the country. More than 2 million people have already been expelled from the United States without the possibility of applying for asylum, regardless of the fact that Title 42 is a public health program that dates back to the 1940s and has nothing to do with migration.
Despite Joe Biden’s administration eliminating Title 42, federal courts have prevented them from doing so, which has left all of those migrants in a state of limbo. Their situation has been difficult to say the least. So many have been stranded for so long in Mexico waiting for a response that some have already fallen victim to the violence and corruption that endangers the border region.
The truth is the Republican Party’s intention to extend Title 42 is no other than to undermine the laws of asylum. With that in mind, Republicans—along with some moderate and conservative Democrats— have filed an amendment to a health bill regarding prescription drug prices, that extends the implementation of Title 42 until the threat of COVID is eliminated outside the United States. They’re trying to create a pretext for extending Title 42 by pointing to the exterior while inside the country the situation remains in flux, with more than 167,000 new cases and counting.
Notwithstanding, the plans to legalize Dreamers and qualifying farm workers continue to be considered, although the real possibility for their approval in the current session of Congress are slim.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has been proposed as a stand-alone measure, and although it was approved twice in the lower chamber, it remains unclear whether the votes to advance it exist in the Senate. This measure allows farmers to hire workers year-round through the H-2A visa program rather than for short periods at a time. In fact, it is believed that the measure would ease the labor shortage in the farming industry, which in turn would lower consumer prices. Furthermore, the scarcity of labor is not only in agriculture but in chicken and meat processing as well, where they cannot recruit workers through the H-2A program.
Essentially, it’s a tug of war where the permanence of a legislator is valued more than rewarding the millions of human beings and their families who have given so much to keep the social and economic dynamics of the United States alive. It’s unsurprising that undocumented immigrants have already contributed more than $30 billion in taxes and more than $200 billion in spending power through their small businesses. What exactly are Republicans not getting from these figures? Or for that matter why do they want to hide it? It’s pure political convenience.
Let’s take the case of Dreamers. Since Republicans have thwarted all previous attempts to legalize their status, we already know they like to pay lip service and praise the contributions of these young people while using them like pawns to advance even more restrictive measures. While Trump ended DACA, his truculent advisor Stephen Miller, along with other Republican figures, have conditioned granting 600,000 visas for Dreamers in exchange for restricting asylum laws even further. This includes eliminating protections for migrant children who arrive at the border alone, adding funds to construct the border wall, and drastically reducing family and diversity visas.
The lives of Dreamers and millions of undocumented people are, for these Republicans, pawns in their twisted game of political chess.
A hard truth to realize is that politicians will wait until the last minute before recess, or when a session is about to close, to propose measures they know won’t pass just so they can face their voters and constituents and say, “at least we tried.” In this Congress, which ends on January 3, 2023, the Republican bloc in opposition to the Biden agenda has had the consistent support of a group of moderate and conservative Democrats led by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, from West Virginia and Arizona respectively, who have paralyzed the President’s proposals and promises.
The solid Republican opposition to sensible solutions to our migration dilemmas has been aided by this group of Democrats, who undermined their possibilities for advancement. In the coming days and months, we will see to what degree.
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