Uncle Joe’s Immigration Plan

Dear All,

Joe Biden, the ailing former Vice President and Senator, and Democrat candidate for the highest office in the land, released his team’s immigration stance this week. For those supporting any level of restrictions, as to be expected, you’d be disappointed.

The Biden plan includes undoing the “damage” of the current administration and reclaiming “American values,” and goes through a litany of other meaningless words (all fronted with “strong” verbs), given this man’s more than 40 years in office with little to show for – modernizing the immigration system, welcoming immigrants, reasserting America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees, tackling the root causes of irregular migration  and implementing effective border screening.

Undoing Trump’s “damage” is a reaction to more than a dozen administration policies and rule changes, none of which the crafters of Biden’s immigration policy agree with. The centerpiece is family separation during detainment. The Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy changed how families apprehended coming across the border were treated.

According to Salvador Rizzo of The Washington Post, in prior administrations, illegal immigrant families seeking asylum were released and went into the civil court system. However, under Trump the parents are being detained and sent to criminal courts, while the children are resettled in the United States as though they were unaccompanied minors. It is important to note that prior administrations rarely prosecuted people for illegal entry and probably with good reason – not only are the optics terrible, it puts a great deal of stress on our legal system.

However, given that one of Biden’s tenets is to “restore sensible enforcement priorities,” it is fairly obvious that removing someone who is in the country illegally will not be a priority. Removals/deportations will be reserved for those who graduate to committing felonies or who don’t practice social distancing.

Biden’s handlers also believe the Trump administration has made it too difficult for Green Card holders to become citizens. Perhaps they would have demonstrated a more accurate understanding of our current immigration environment if they would have stated they intend to “make it easier” to become a citizen. Not being a public charge is pretty rudimentary as are a basic understanding of English and civics. It demonstrates to me a perpetual drop in standards and a lessening of the value of U.S. citizenship.

Imagine if we modeled our process for becoming a citizen on the Swiss system! It is extremely difficult to obtain citizenship in Switzerland. For instance, after having been in the country for a minimum of 12 years and demonstrating proficiency in the language (of which there are four), the State Secretariat for Migration closely examines whether an applicant has integrated into the Swiss way of life, is familiar with Swiss customs and traditions, complies with the Swiss rule of law, and is not a security threat.

Another tenet is to “revitalize the Task Force on New Americans (TFNA) and boost our economy by prioritizing integration, promoting immigrant entrepreneurship, increasing access to language instruction, and promoting civil engagement.” Interestingly, starting in 2017 the poverty rate in the United States began to drop. In the city I live in, Lancaster, Penn., it dropped 9.2 percent before we were hit with the pandemic. At the same time, it had fallen roughly 2.5 percent across the country.

What changed? Little, except the number of refugees had slowed to a trickle, and immigration was down. Labor responds to the market forces of supply and demand. Imagine if Biden’s handlers had a taskforce that would focus on promoting entrepreneurship for American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) and increasing this group’s access to skills training and civic engagement.

Biden’s TFNA is neoliberal speak for maximizing profits of the owner class through the free movement of people across international borders and the hobbling of the nation state. Black lives do not matter to this ilk; they never did. Hence, their zeal to not invest in our vulnerable native-born communities and to displace them with ever more eager immigrants.

‘Modernize Our Immigration System’

It is in this section that things take a turn for the Orwellian. One might think that in a section named “Modernize Our Immigration System” one might see recommendations for new technologies and practices that would mirror the best from other countries, but no.

There is not one mention of the words biometrics, technology or digital. Every tenet is undergirded by a call for either amnesty or to continue swelling the ranks of immigrants, guest workers and asylees who flock to the country each year. If Uncle Joe were able to get out of his bunker more often, he might catch on to the fact that there are more than 40 million Americans unemployed whose employment benefits will be running out shortly.

We have written extensively about the need to reform our temporary nonimmigrant employment visa system, and we are continuing to build a movement to support this. For decades, corporations, universities and nonprofit organizations have used programs such as H-1B, J-1 and OPT to displace American workers. This is done to maximize profit, fortify market share by preventing workers from moving to other companies or starting their own company, and grow a workforce that is more quiescent and only too happy to accept ever-decreasing wages, benefits and job security.

Yet, here is Biden still talking about “expanding the number of high-skilled visas and eliminating the limits on employment-based visas by country, which create unacceptably long backlogs.” Of course, were Uncle Joe to be elected, he’d work with Congress on “reforms” that will ensure American workers do not get displaced. Right! In the end, nothing new is being proposed. Essentially this is Sen. Richard Durbin’s Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families Act.

America produces ample numbers of skilled and highly skilled workers to not only grow the economy but allow us to dominate the world’s technological landscape. For those exceptional few that come to this country and do add value, we have programs such as the O visa that accommodate them. Biden’s call to modernize our immigration system is not only flawed, but representative of the past policies which have Americans in poll after poll favoring reduced immigration.

Since Congress created the H-1B visa as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, employers have falsely insisted that a dire shortage of skilled workers exists. On its face, their argument – that for nearly 30 years, not enough qualified Americans can be found – is ludicrous. A January 2019 New York Times story recounted American university students’ difficulty in getting seats in high-demand computer science classes. A true worker shortage would result in increased wages. But instead, tech salaries remain flat. Average annual 2018 salaries leveled off at $93,244, an insignificant 0.6 percent increase from 2017.

Uncle Joe would also like to provide a pathway to citizenship for seasonal agricultural workers. This is essentially a rehash of the failed HR 5038, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.

If we give Big Ag an inhouse labor pool that will be in the country 12 months as opposed to nine months out of the year, per this idea, we’ll have a bucolic utopia for owner and worker alike. Wages would rise, use of deadly pesticides in the fields would end, working conditions would dramatically improve and underpopulated rural communities will experience a renaissance – WRONG!

Although it may not bring about a rural renaissance, a tight labor market where owners are forced to hike wages, improve working conditions and workplace safety would enhance the lives of all workers and would no doubt attract many of those 40 million unemployed to the fields to work on the harvests.

Biden’s immigration plan actually looks to do the following:

  • Reverse all the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including asylum and public charge rule
  • Reassert America’s commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees, and rescind Trump’s refugee ban
  • Staple a Green Card to the diploma of every international student who completes a PhD program in STEM
  • Abolish country cap quotas while increasing the number of Green Cards
  • Preserve family-based Green Card sponsorship, removing spouses and children from the quota
  • Create a new visa category that allows cities and counties to petition for foreign workers.

Mostly, Biden’s immigration platform is bad. But I can agree with the idea of convening a regional meeting of leaders, including from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Canada, to address the factors driving migration and to propose a regional resettlement solution. Here at PFIR we have long advocated for identifying the “push” factors that lead to unbridled immigration. But, Biden had decades in the Senate and a couple tours as VP to do such work.

The Biden campaign also recently introduced  a “Buy American” package that even Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist for President Trump, thought was “very smart.” The key component is a $300 billion stimulus to be used to spur domestic manufacturing. Unfortunately, what is missing from the package is a “HIRE” American component. So, it seems on the one hand his intention is to create more manufacturing jobs at home, and on the other hand to bring in more labor from abroad to work those jobs. I suppose he feels that American workers should not have their cake and eat it too.

Biden’s immigration platform is lazy, reactionary, laden with dog whistles and giveaways to the neoliberal elite. It is too bad that at a time of record high unemployment this is the best the Democratic party can produce. Perhaps the campaign icon should be a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor, because, ladies and gentlemen, it is back to the future!

In Solidarity.