Maribel Hastings and David Torres
The first year of the Biden presidency has passed and with it, all the analysis about why immigration reform remains undone once again. The key question is what can be accomplished. That is, what is the next step to achieve something in this electoral year, a panorama that becomes even more complicated for the rest of this presidency if the Democrats lose control of Congress.
Owing to the existential threat that the prior administration represented for millions of undocumented immigrants and their families, it is all the more urgent to establish strategies for intelligent action, not contemplation or lengthy discussions, in order to avoid a major catastrophe. In other words, doing nothing is not an option.
There is already a group advocating for Senate Democratic leaders to bypass the Parliamentarian’s recommendation to exclude legalization language in the Build Back Better Act. But, we don’t even know if this bill will advance before the midterm elections.
Now Biden says that the bill should be debated in pieces, while the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin—the same one who, along with Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, put a wrench in the president’s agenda—says that his lower cost Build Back Better (BBB) plan is not on the table.
Essentially, we are entering the dangerous territory of “one step forward, two steps back,” which in politics services no one—especially not those who have been waiting diligently, for decades, to regularize their immigration situation, and who have always taken the necessary steps to sustain their families and the economies of the places in which they live. The steps they have taken have always been deliberate and forward.
Another option is for the Democrats to present stand-alone legislation that legalizes certain groups of undocumented people, like the proposals the House of Representatives approved to legalize Dreamers, farm workers, TPS beneficiaries, and essential workers. The chances of this taking place in today’s environment are minimal, but it would be fair to present them so that the Senate has to vote on them and show, once again, how pro-immigrant rhetoric does not translate into real support, particularly from some democrats. And let’s not forget the Republican opposition en bloc.
What does that leave, then? TPS extensions? Designating TPS for citizens of additional countries? Executive orders like DACA?
Essentially, we are entering the dangerous territory of “one step forward, two steps back,” which in politics services no one.
Whatever the option may be, the Democrats have to show that they are doing something, that the issue is not dead and that they will defend it until the objective is won—not through false promises, but concrete actions through solid and durable arguments.
As long as Congress fails to do its job of legislating, it is expected that the agencies and executive branch will begin to take measures to protect certain groups of undocumented people and fill this vacuum. That is exactly what this is about: filling the hole of hope that consecutive immigration failures over the past year have left in these 11 million human beings.
Of course, there is a great leap in moving from word to deed. Executive orders like DACA, on top of being a temporary solution, have been embroiled in judicial disputes almost always initiated by Republican figures, as in the case of Texas, which led the fight against DACA that involved various states.
This may be one of the first obstacles to overcome, since the Republicans have become an automatic anti-immigrant bloc at a time when everyone needs to come together with pragmatic solutions so as not to ruin this country’s democracy, hanging by a thread. If the Republican Party does not have eyes to see the plurality and diversity that is developing in today’s United States, they are not up to the task of representing this society and have leaps and bounds to go to adapt to this 21st century reality.
Moreover, the ideological composition of the courts, largely of a conservative tendency, has also been of consequence, such as the decision from the District Judge of the Southern District of Texas, Andrew Hanen who ruled DACA was “illegal.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appealed Hanen’s ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also leans conservative, in a case that threatens to head to the Supreme Court, also with a conservative bent. Independent of that, Dreamers deserve a permanent solution.
It’s obvious that a list of factors have conspired against immigration reform to legalize millions. Xenophobia and racism are palpable. On the other hand, the pandemic has also stood in the way of a solution, despite the huge efforts undocumented people make to keep this country afloat. To that add worries about the health of the economy, blanket Republican opposition, Democrats’ internal divisions, and their preoccupation with losing control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
It’s a scene that requires more than a political strategy, from the mind of a statesman who knows how to put things together to rise to a higher level as a nation—one that has a place for all who are contributing to its survival.
Unfortunately there is never a perfect time to make difficult decisions. And Biden, whose approval ratings leave much to be desired in the run-up to the midterm elections, must make bold moves on the immigration issue. This to demonstrate to a segment of the electorate that, essentially, he didn’t forget his campaign promises; so that enthusiasm is carried to the polls; and, of course, to generate a congressional debate that results in some type of agreement that benefits millions of undocumented people.
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