A New Immigration Vision For America
In his weekly Global Public Square ABC television program, Fareed Zakaria recently underlined the great contribution that immigrants have been making to America. After pointing out that the search for a new vaccine to defeat Covid-19 has been led by several immigrant leaders, including immigrants like Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bouria, Bio-Tech’s CEO Ugur Sahin and Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel, among others, he went on to provide some interesting insights about the role of immigrants in the American economy.
Those familiar with the impact of immigrants on the American economy will know some of the basics. For example, a quarter of all new businesses in America are founded by immigrants. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, more than half of all the startups in the tech sector valued at a billion dollars or more were founded by immigrants. One study of Silicon Valley’s economy found six out of every 10 highly skilled tech workers was actually born abroad.
In his program, Zakaria added the following interesting insights:
“It’s not just in technology that the pandemic highlighted our reliance on foreign-born workers. Analysis by the Migration Policy Institute found 38% of home health aids, 29% of physicians, and 23% of pharmacists are immigrants, even though foreign-born workers make up only 17% of the overall workforce. For foreign laborers, graders, and sorters, that number jumps to 55%, according to the USDA. In fact, 70% of immigrants work in occupations that the federal government classified as essential during the pandemic.”
These are not just statistics. They draw our attention to the fact that an influx of immigrants is the lifeblood of the American economy and to ignore, or what is worse to deny this input, is to cheat ourselves and our offspring out of a future of prosperity and abundance. So the question is, how can the new incoming Biden/Harris administration continue to support this tremendous track record of achievements from immigrants to America? In the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) document A Vision for America as a Welcoming Nation, the association puts forward it’s recommendations. The document calls for the administration to take up 11 initiatives:
1) Proclaim a message of welcome; 2) Ensure fairness, efficiency and accountability in the legal immigration system; 3) Restore integrity, fairness, and efficiency to the immigration courts; 4) Ensure the fair and humane treatment of migrants at the border; 5) Restore asylum law and protections for victims of crime; 6) Guarantee legal assistance and counsel; 7) End inhumane detention; 8) Set a vision for immigration enforcement that is fair, humane and effective; 9) Improve Customs and Border Pprotection adjudications and processing at ports of entry; 10) Protect undocumented people and others with deep ties to America; 11) Reform employment-based and family-based visa programs; and 12) Ensure the Department of State is properly resourced to provide fair and efficient consular processing.
The problem is not everything can be addressed at once. So what can the new administration do to start off in the right direction?
According to Gregory Chen, Senior Director of Government Relations at AILA, the new administration needs to focus on what is quickly doable to start. He identified a few things recently, largely taking his cue from the Vision for America document:
- The President needs to start off with a speech that can set a new tone in the way America deals with immigrants.
- He can rescind some of Trump’s most egregious proclamations, namely those dealing with Muslims, asylum and work visa prohibitions.
- He can reverse course on family separations at the border, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) enforcement and removals of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immigrants.
- He can prioritize who should be the subject of enforcement actions, such as hardened criminals and violent offenders.
- He can revisit the way asylum claimants are being dealt with.
According to Chen, there are some 1.25 million backlogged cases awaiting adjudication in the immigration courts and some five million cases adjudicated each year. More immigration judges are needed, but they should not be appointed based on political viewpoints. Restoring transparency and stakeholder engagement should be a priority. Revising litigation strategy related to cases in courts, such as the public charge issue, as well as cutting off new emerging offensive, so-called “midnight hour” Trump regulations, on asylum, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and employment matters, before they do much damage are areas that can be attended to now.
More generally, the new administration will start off by nominating certain individuals to key Cabinet and administrative posts, such as the Secretaries of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, and the Directors the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These are likely to take time due to the need for Senate approvals. But lower level appointments in the administration can be made by the President alone and that can be done quickly.
As for what can be expected to get bipartisan support in Congress, the most likely areas will be the Dreamers (DACA), the TPS immigrants and changes to employment -based regulations, particularly related to integrity matters. Otherwise, depending on what happens in the Georgia Senate races, Congress is not likely to be a place where much immigration reform can be expected.
In short, there is a lot to do. Even if the dream of most immigration lawmakers, pundits and activists of comprehensive immigration reform is not likely to be realized any time soon, much can nonetheless be improved with a bit of leadership and initiative coming from the White House. Millions of peoples lives are affected by these issues and much improvement can be made with some effort and good common sense.
Published: 23 November 2020