Nicole Narea, Vox, December 22, 2019
Pete Buttigieg released on Sunday an immigration plan that would reverse the Trump administration’s enforcement policies, push for a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and streamline the process of applying for asylum and other forms of legal immigration.
In the Democratic debates, Buttigieg has talked about his immigrant father, who was born in Malta and came to the US for his doctorate. In South Bend, Buttigieg created a municipal ID program to allow unauthorized immigrants to open bank accounts and fill prescriptions; he also helped create a system of alerting residents of known US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids — but he’s even admitted that “a mayor can’t do much when it comes to immigration.”
Buttigieg, like Biden, has positioned himself as a moderate Democrat. And also like Biden, he hasn’t embraced some key progressive immigration proposals endorsed by the other frontrunners, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, such as decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings and restructuring immigration enforcement agencies such as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE.
Under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, he has aimed to prosecute anyone who crosses the border without authorization, including immigrants who pose no public safety risk.
Like other candidates, Buttigieg would instead direct immigration enforcement efforts to individuals who have committed serious crimes, those who have no asylum or humanitarian claims, and those who “circumvent our laws for profit,” including human traffickers and people who exploit immigrant labor.
He would use immigration detention sparingly, instead enrolling immigrants in programs offering alternatives to detention; he would also end for-profit detention facilities, which have been the site of some of the most egregious abuses of immigrants in recent years.
But unlike Sanders and Warren, Buttigieg doesn’t want to overhaul CBP and ICE, which are the primary agencies responsible for arresting and detaining immigrants — he would work within the existing enforcement system, and that means he would be able to rely primarily on executive authority to introduce reforms. But he’s proposing to shift responsibility for processing migrants at the southern border from CBP to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Buttigieg proposes a revamping of the legal immigration system, too — but that would require bipartisan support from Congress, an unlikely prospect given that gridlock on immigration issues has never been worse.
As part of that goal, however, he would get rid of per-country visa caps, which have made it much more difficult for Chinese and Indian immigrants in particular to immigrate to the US. He would also nix the five-year waiting period for green card holders to obtain health insurance and food assistance, keep the costs associated with applying for citizenship low, and aid immigrant integration by, for example, promoting voter registration at naturalization ceremonies.
Buttigieg’s plan aims to reverse various Trump policies: his travel ban on individuals from seven countries deemed to be security threats, the practice of family separations, and his cap on annual refugee admissions (to a historic low of 18,000), as well as the practice of keeping migrants trapped in Mexican border towns while they wait for decisions on their asylum applications.
He proposes to raise the cap on annual refugee admissions to 125,000 during his first year in office, and says he supports legislation that would set an annual floor of 95,000 admissions.
Buttigieg would also reinstate programs offering temporary legal protection to certain immigrants, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and extend additional protection from deportation to parents of DACA recipients.