Joe Biden largely campaigned on restoring the status quo ante in Washington, so naturally one of his first proposals is for the sort of “comprehensive immigration reform” that was a staple of the pre-Trump years.
George W. Bush pushed a “comprehensive” bill and failed. So did Barack Obama. Biden picks up where they left off, except with a proposal — and this will be a theme — that is further to the left than the prior bills.
The key, if always dubious, promise in past legislation was to implement enforcement provisions before or alongside an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Biden’s plan doesn’t even bother pretending. It discusses upgrading technology at the border, the bare minimum of enforcement window-dressing, while proposing an amnesty for more than 10 million people.
Although the details are yet to be written into legislation, it’s hard to exaggerate how sweeping this proposal is. It would apply not just to illegal immigrants who have been here for years and become embedded in their communities, but to illegal immigrants who showed up the day before yesterday — the cutoff for the amnesty is January 1, 2021. Even this requirement may be waived for illegal immigrants who were deported on or after January 20, 2017 but resided in the United States three years prior to that.
Biden doesn’t want to give temporary legal status to illegal immigrants. He wants to give them green cards and then, after a period of years, make them eligible for citizenship. This would precipitate a wave of follow-on immigration. Green-card holders can petition for spouses and minor children to come to the United States, while citizens can petition for parents and siblings, as well.
It’s an unwritten rule that comprehensive immigration bills must always increase levels of legal immigration, too, and sure enough, the Biden proposal would loosen and lift various restrictions and caps in the legal system.
The proposal’s gesture toward stemming the flow of migrants from south of the border is to increase foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. We should do what we reasonably can to assist the development of these countries, but we shouldn’t pretend that this is any kind of short-term solution to migration. Even if these countries were to experience more economic growth right away, the immediate effect would likely be to increase migration as more people would have the resources to attempt to come north.
In a move worthy of an apparatchik at Oberlin College, Biden also wants to eliminate the term “alien” from the U.S. code on grounds that this longstanding, perfectly good term is offensive and exclusionary.
There is a good case for a carefully tailored amnesty for the illegal immigrants who have been here the longest, coupled with real enforcement measures like E-Verify and an exit-entry visa system. This is not even close to that.
At least the proposal furthers Biden’s goal of unity in one respect. It should unite Republicans and all supporters of a sound immigration system in determined opposition.