Posted on November 16, 2020

Biden Wants Another Crack at ‘Comprehensive Immigration Reform’ but Activists Are Wary of Past Failures

Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek, November 12, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden wants to hit the ground running, undoing President Donald Trump‘s hardline immigration executive orders on day one, and producing “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation, to be worked on with Congress during his first 100 days.

But while weary and wary immigration activists count down the days until Biden can erase Trump’s administrative orders, they do not see a large-scale legislative overhaul contained within one bill as a workable strategy any longer.

Previously the gold standard, a bipartisan comprehensive approach to reforming the nation’s immigration laws—essentially one bill to rule them all—has been the Democratic strategy for the better part of the past two decades.

But as Biden again backs trying to negotiate with Republicans, veterans of past immigration battles in the advocacy world said the time has come to move on from a “failed” strategy, they told Newsweek.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is an idea whose time has come and gone,” said Frank Sharry, who worked on the strategy when George W. Bush was engaged and pushing it as president in 2004, along with former Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain who introduced the bill in 2005.


Their main beef with CIR, they said, is that Republicans increasingly call for more border militarization and more interior enforcement against immigrants, and the negotiation eventually no longer benefits activists and the community.

“When activists hear comprehensive immigration reform, it’s like PTSD,” said Cristina Jimenez, an immigrant leader and co-founder of United We Dream, who informally advised the Biden campaign on immigration.

“It’s a package with harmful provisions for our community in exchange for a pathway to citizenship. It does not work for us and we need to break away from the old framework.”


Advocacy organizations also have replaced past calls for comprehensive immigration reform with guidelines and goalposts like the “Here to Stay” platform backed by United We Dream, the Sunrise Movement, Indivisible, and the Center for Popular Democracy, which included halting deportations, a pathway to citizenship, ending detention, and “calling for the end of ICE as we know it.”

Perhaps foreshadowing the inside-outside game activists can be expected to engage in with the Biden White House, the campaign acquiesced to public, as well as private, pressure from advocates like Jimenez during the primary in announcing support for a moratorium on deportations during the first 100 days of the administration.


Come January 20, the Biden White House will begin its push to banish Trump’s immigration orders and put in place its own, with activists hoping different parts of their agenda are addressed in a piecemeal but efficient manner. But they said they will be relieved if CIR isn’t part of the efforts.

“The process of pushing for CIR has been akin to negotiating with terrorists,” said Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). {snip}