Biden asked for immigration reform in the State of the Union. Can it pass a split Congress?


President Joe Biden shakes hands with Speaker Kevin McCarthy before delivering the State of the Union. He briefly mentioned immigration reform. JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL Agencia EFE

President Joe Biden made a wistful comment at his State of the Union Tuesday that there was a time when Congress found common ground on immigration reform.

“Let’s also come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan issue like it was before,” Biden said.

It has been three decades since Congress passed large-scale immigration reform. Since, executive orders, smaller targeted bills and measures, and court rulings have squeezed through different policies for people coming to the United States.

While the Biden administration has supported immigration reform, it is unlikely that any proposed legislation will get to the finish line in a divided Congress, continuing the decades-long partisan battle over who can be put on a pathway to citizenship.

“If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border,” Biden implored Tuesday night. “And a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers and essential workers.”

Immigration advocates wanted more from Biden’s speech. “To deny our country’s immigrants more than two sentences during the State of the Union is to deny the reality of their existence,” wrote Alejandra Oliva, an author and advocate, in a Thursday TIME article titled, “Immigrants Deserve More from Biden.”

Plenty of California Democrats in Congress have pushed a litany of bills and proposals to open up pathways to citizenship and grant more rights to undocumented immigrants, such as for essential workers and people who came to the U.S. as children. California Sen. Alex Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, has been one of the most prominent leaders in pushing reform and reaching across the aisle to achieve it.

He told The Bee in an interview this fall that it was “beyond disappointing” that his GOP colleagues continued to block legislation, saying “on immigration, voting rights and a handful of other things, it’s our Republican colleagues that continue to stand in the way.”

Republican Presidents

Before, large-scale immigration reform that made it through Congress was last passed under Republican presidents. Ronald Reagan in 1986 signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided pathways to citizenship for people who immigrated before 1982 or who had worked in the agriculture industry for at least 90 days in the year before the legislation passed.

The legislation also aimed for stricter enforcement practices against illegal immigration, though was criticized for not yielding long-term results. The act introduced civil and criminal penalties on employers who knowingly hired undocumented immigrants.

President George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased the number of immigrants permitted into the U.S. per year by revising a 1965 law. It established new family-based and employment-based routes for immigration, and opened diversity immigration visas for people from countries that not many immigrants came from.

The act also offered “temporary protective status” from deportation for people coming from countries that faced certain issues — natural disasters, persecution, armed conflict — until situations improved.

New plan and Title 42

In January, the White House released a new plan for the border to come into effect after a pandemic-era measure ends.

The measure, Title 42, was introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020 and denied entry into the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic. A CDC official testified before Congress in December 2021 that the policy lacked sufficient rationale for protecting public health. However, the measure has remained in place.

The Biden administration has used Title 42 to justify denying some migrants, such as in a widely criticized expulsion of many Venezuelan people last fall.

Biden’s proposed plan includes instituting an online appointment portal for lawful entry, allowing more refugees entry, and coordinating with other countries for resettlement. It would put more resources toward border security and towns, as well as expand work to prevent human smuggling.

Supreme Court arguments over Title 42, which has been criticized for categorically blocking migrants and asylum seekers from entering the U.S., are set for March.

The Biden administration has argued that the case brought forward by mostly GOP-led states to keep the policy would be rendered moot once the declaration of emergency related to COVID-19 expires in May.

DACA Fights

Legal battles have long drawn immigration policies into limbo.

Last month, nine states asked a federal judge in Texas to end the Obama administration program for people brought to the U.S. as children, calling it an overreach of executive power and compounding on the most recent lawsuit concerning the program.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama signed an executive order to protect people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA.

The order did not provide a pathway to citizenship, unlike the bill introduced repeatedly in different versions that has failed to make it out of Congress since it was first brought up in 2001: the DREAM Act, from which Dreamers get their name.

When Obama attempted to expand DACA’s reach, 26 Republican-led states sued, preventing it from covering more individuals. Former President Donald Trump moved to dismantle DACA entirely, triggering multiple lawsuits. Biden attempted to fully reinstall DACA, however federal judges determined the order is unlawful, allowing current DACA holders to continue renewing enrollment but preventing new applications as legal battles continue.


by Gillian Brassil

scalabrinian spirituality 2023


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