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January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1

Elections, No Reforms

Republicans took control of the House in November 2022 elections with a slim margin, which may affect their promise to focus, for instance, on unauthorized migration over the US-Mexico border and efforts to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Most voters cited the economy, inflation, crime and immigration as their top concerns. However, many young voters concerned about abortion and democracy voted for Democrats, limiting Republican gains in the House and keeping the Senate in Democratic hands.

Republicans want more border security, meaning more walls, fences and agents to deter unauthorized entries from Mexico and restrictions on access to asylum and welfare benefits. The likely result of divided government is oversight hearings on DHS rather than immigration reforms. Immigration reform bills passed by one house of Congress may die in the other.

Republican ads charged that under President Biden migrants, crime and fentanyl are pouring into the US. Most Democrats reacted defensively, acknowledging the upsurge in migration but arguing that dealing with unwanted migration is a complex issue that cannot be solved by building a wall on the Mexico-US border. Democrats said the November 2022 elections were a choice “between election deniers and protecting democracy.”

Donald Trump highlighted migration issues during his presidency, giving Republicans a reputation as the party that can deal with illegal immigration through enforcement. President Biden promised to reverse Trump’s policies but, once in office, rising unauthorized migration led to the continuation of some Trump’s policies, frustrating Democrats who hoped for change.

The husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was attacked in October 2022 by an unauthorized Canadian who entered the US legally in 2008. California is a sanctuary state that limits cooperation between state and local law and federal immigration enforcement agencies.

DACA. The Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2022 upheld a lower court’s decision that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) was an unlawful overreach of presidential authority. President Obama created the DACA program in June 2012 for unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and graduated from US high schools.

Some 600,000 Dreamers have temporary work and residence status, but new enrollments in DACA are blocked, leaving an estimated 100,000 unauthorized foreigners who graduate from US high schools each year in an unauthorized status. Unauthorized students attend state-funded universities; some activists are pushing the UC system, the state’s third-largest employer, to hire unauthorized students, arguing that the employer sanctions in IRCA do not apply to state governments and their agencies.

Efforts to attach a bill that would have provided a pathway to immigrant status for DACA residents and bolstered border security failed in December 2022. Few expect the enactment of immigration reforms that combine legalization and border security in 2023-24.

The Biden administration in January 2023 tackled the surge of illegal crossings from Mexico into the US by requiring more asylum seekers to apply in the first safe country they reach and offering more nationalities the option of applying for asylum online. Up to 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti can enter the US on “parole” each month if they have US financial sponsors and pass background checks. Migrants in Mexico may schedule appointments to seek asylum at official border crossings through an app called CBP One instead of attempting illegal entry.

Biden’s advisors include migrant advocates and those concerned about unauthorized migration. Advocates held sway during Biden’s first two years, contributing to the sense that the US was “open” to unauthorized migrants. Other advisors believe that an out-of-control border is a political liability, and hope that admitting up to 360,000 foreigners a year on parole will reduce illegal crossings.

Population. The US population was 333 million July 1, 2022, up by 1.3 million or 0.4 percent; a million or 70 percent of the increase was due to immigration. Texas and Florida gained the most residents between 2021 and 2022, while New York, California, and Illinois lost residents. Texas and Florida combined have 16 percent of US residents, while California has 12 percent.

The Current Population Survey found 48 million foreign-born US residents in fall 2022, making almost 15 percent of US residents immigrants and exceeding the previous peaks of 14.7 percent in 1910 and 14.8 percent in 1890. Some 17 million US-born children have at least one immigrant parent.

Almost 30 million foreign-born workers were in the US labor force in 2022, over 62 percent. The labor force participation rates of US-born workers have been falling as the US-born population ages and more young US-born men without college degrees do not work or look for work.

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