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April 2023, Volume 29, Number 2

Immigration Reform, Unauthorized

There are few prospects for major immigration reforms in 2023-24. The Republican-controlled House announced plans to focus on unauthorized migration over the Mexico-US border and to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for not enforcing US immigration laws that aim to prevent unauthorized migration.

Restrictionist House Republicans introduced a bill in January 2023 that would empower DHS to bar unauthorized foreigners from the US if DHS is unable to process them via normal procedures. Admissionist Senate Democrats introduced bills to allow the 600,000 unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and graduated from US high schools, and who are currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program launched in June 2012, to become immigrants and eventually US citizens. Bipartisan bills to legalize unauthorized farm workers and make it easier to employ H-2A guest workers are unlikely to be enacted in 2023-24.

Rep Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) introduced the Dignity Act, an IRCA-style grand bargain that would allow most unauthorized foreigners to live and work legally in the US for the next 10 years. After paying $10,000 in fines, they could become immigrants and apply for US citizenship five years later. The bill also includes more funds for border security, mandates employer participation in E-Verify, and creates processing centers for asylum seekers on the Mexico-US border.

Immigration is likely to remain a political football in 2023-24. Republicans decry the record number of unauthorized foreigners encountered just inside the US border with Mexico and call on the Biden administration to enforce laws against illegal immigration. Democrats are divided between those who want to “do something” to slow illegal immigration and those who believe that the US should accept more immigrants and asylum seekers.

Less than 10 percent of voters are “progressive left.” Almost all are Democrats who wield an outsized voice in politics because they dominate think tanks and the media. The progressive left supported lockdowns during covid and generous immigration policies.

Biden. President Biden’s administration took over 400 executive actions on immigration during his first two years in office, putting Biden on track to surpass Trump’s 472 executive actions during his first four years. Biden’s actions restructured interior enforcement and reduced deportations, expanded Temporary Protected Status for foreigners in the US, and maintained legal immigration at over a million a year.

Biden’s efforts to tackle the “root causes” of illegal migration in Central and South America are unlikely to have significant short-term effects. Instead, the carrot-and-stick approach embodied in granting parole to 30,000 migrants a month from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they have US sponsors and returning another 30,000 a month from these countries to Mexico if they arrive illegally drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Immigration may prove more problematic for Democrats than for Republicans, who are focused on what they call an out-of-control border. Democrats are torn between those want more immigrants, guest workers, and refugees and those who believe that Americans want to limit immigration. In January 2023, 70 Congressional Democrats signed a letter to Biden complaining that his border control measures could limit the access of foreigners to asylum in the US.

Most legal immigrants are already in the US when they are “admitted” with immigrant visas, meaning that they adjust from student, tourist, or another status to immigrant. In recent years, a growing number of foreigners live in the US with a temporary legal status, including with Temporary Protected Status or the status associated with applying for asylum and waiting on decisions and appeals. Immigration to the US increasingly means arriving in a non-immigrant status and eventually finding a way to become an immigrant without leaving the US.

The number of unauthorized foreigners in the US peaked at 12 million in 2008 and has been between 10 million and 11 million since, as the number of unauthorized Mexicans dropped from about 6.5 million to 4.5 million.

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