Nicole Narea, Vox, December 12, 2019
Joe Biden released an immigration plan on Wednesday that focuses on undoing President Donald Trump’s policies.
He doesn’t back some of the more progressive policies that have been proposed or embraced by other candidates: decriminalizing the act of crossing the border without authorization, placing a temporary moratorium on deportations, or redesigning the agencies in charge of immigration enforcement.
What Biden’s plan would do
Biden promises to end President Donald Trump’s practices of keeping immigrants in detention long-term, separating families and conducting large-scale immigration raids that aim to arrest unauthorized immigrants already living and working in the US — proposals in line with those from the rest of the Democratic field.
He also vows to end a slew of Trump’s toughest anti-immigrant policies: the “public charge” rule making it more difficult for low-income immigrants to enter and settle in the US; his travel ban on individuals from seven countries he deems to be national security threats; and restrictions on asylum including the Migrant Protection Protocols, under which Trump has sent tens of thousands of migrants back to Mexico to wait for their court hearings in the US.
Biden proposes reforms to the legal immigration system, including a plan to create a new visa category that would allow cities counties to apply for higher levels of immigrants.
He would renew the US’s focus on protecting vulnerable immigrant populations, including asylum seekers and refugees. He would immediately increase the number of refugees the US admits to 125,000 annually, on par with what Sen. Elizabeth Warren has promised (and more than Obama admitted), staff up immigration courts, and shore up protections for domestic violence victims and those fleeing political persecution.
To address the root causes of migration in Central America, he would invest $4 billion over four years to combat corruption, attract private sector investment, develop civil society, and incentivize countries to conduct their own reforms. (Though, that’s still less than the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Central America that Warren has proposed.)
Biden says he would work with Congress on comprehensive immigration reform, which isn’t likely to pass so long as Republicans control the Senate. The closest Congress has come to a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform in a generation was the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” bill that passed the Senate 68-32 in 2013.
The bill would have reinvented the immigration system, notably creating a 13-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and a new visa for low-skilled workers, requiring employers to verify the employment authorization of their workers and shifting away from policies emphasizing family ties in favor of work skills. But it was ultimately doomed after House Republicans refused to hold a vote on the bill under pressure from grassroots anti-immigrant voters.
To get comprehensive immigration reform done in 2020 would require an unlikely series of events: Democrats would have to flip the Senate and hold the House, and the next president would have to make it an immediate legislative priority. That’s why many lawmakers have abandoned the idea of “comprehensive” reform, instead opting for a piecemeal approach on issues like visas for agricultural workers that can attract bipartisan support.
One noted absence from Biden’s plan: Most of his opponents have embraced the idea, originally proposed by Julián Castro, of decriminalizing the act of crossing the border without authorization by repealing section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act — one of the legal provisions that allowed the Trump administration to separate thousands of immigrant families in 2018.
Under that proposal, immigrants would never be “charged with a crime, immediately deported, or detained for more time than strictly necessary for crossing the border,” as Dara Lind explained for Vox.
Though discussions of decriminalization featured heavily in the early Democratic debates, polls have shown that about 67 percent of voters aren’t in favor of it.
Biden doesn’t embrace that proposal, saying instead that he would end criminal prosecutions that separate families and punish people for lawfully requesting asylum, as well as end blanket prosecutions that undermine due process and the rule of law.
He would also focus on deporting only immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety — a designation that relies largely on the discretion of individual immigration officers.
The Obama administration’s “Secure Communities” program, meant to deport primarily people with records of violent crime, proved that it’s difficult to draw the line between who constitutes a threat and who doesn’t. Under that program, which ended in 2014, it wasn’t just violent criminals who were deported, but also individuals with minor infractions such as traffic tickets.
It’s not clear how Biden would guarantee that his administration wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of that program, but he says he will ensure “individuals are treated with the due process to which they are entitled and their human rights are protected.”
Biden calls for investing in programs that do not require immigrants to remain in detention long-term, including releasing immigrants on the condition that they wear ankle monitors, and support migrants in ensuring that they show up for their immigration appointments.
For those who are detained, Biden vows to improve their living conditions, promising improved accountability for immigration agencies like US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (The plan isn’t specific about what this accountability would look like.) And he calls for ending for-profit detention centers, which have been sites of some of the most egregious abuses of immigrants in recent years.
He also calls for ensuring that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement isn’t allowed to arrest immigrants at “sensitive locations” including hospitals, schools, and workplaces — but he does not mention courthouses among such locations. ICE has stepped up courthouse arrests of unauthorized immigrants under Trump, despite the fact that federal judges have prohibited the practice in some areas of the country on the basis that it discourages them from showing up for their hearings.