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July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3

Immigration: House, Biden

The House approved the Secure the Border Act of 2023 (HR 2) on a 219-213 vote May 11, 2023. The SBA would require DHS to construct at least 900 miles of fencing on the Mexico-US border, to hire 22,000 Border Patrol agents, to reform the asylum system and detain unauthorized foreigners and asylum seekers, to return unaccompanied minors to their families abroad, and mandate that all employers use E-Verify to check the status of newly hired workers.

The Senate is unlikely to approve the SBA, but House passage of the SBA may encourage a bipartisan effort in the Senate to develop an immigration reform bill that combines more money for border security with a path to citizenship for some unauthorized foreigners in the US. Asylum complicates the border security-legalization trade off because applying for asylum has become a side door into the US that allows foreigners to work at least several years while their cases are pending due to backlogs in the system that decides asylum applications and appeals.

The Republican-led Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 on a 62-36 vote in May 2006 that combined tougher immigration enforcement with a path to legalization and new guest worker programs. Another Senate effort in 2007 that delayed legalization until enforcement triggers or benchmarks were satisfied failed. The Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2013 on a 68-32 vote in June 2013 that was similar to the 2006 bill.

Representatives Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Veronica Escobar (D-TX introduced the Dignity Act in May 2023. Dignity would spend $25 billion for border security, create a 12-year path to legal immigrant status for some unauthorized foreigners, update the legal immigration process, establish “humanitarian campuses” on the US border that would process asylum applications within 60 days, and expand the three H-guest worker programs. Republican leaders have said that border security must come before legalization.

Leading Republicans including FL Governor Ron DeSantis called for using the military to patrol the Mexico-US border to reduce the influx of fentanyl and other drugs. Rather than shoot drug smugglers, some say military involvement could allow the use of advanced surveillance drones and other technology to disrupt smuggling.

Biden. President Biden promised to end Trump-era migration policies, but the flood of asylum seekers at the Mexico-US border forced Biden to take a Trump-like approach and restrict unauthorized entries and asylum seeking. Beginning May 11, 2023, most foreigners who transit Mexico, enter the US illegally, and apply for asylum in the US can be returned to Mexico.

Biden promoted legislation in 2021 to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million unauthorized migrants in the US and offer visas for workers, families and visitors, but Congress did not act.

Progressive and moderate Democrats are competing to control of the party’s approach to immigration. Progressives want dramatic changes, such as increasing immigration and temporary worker flows, legalizing unauthorized foreigners, and welcoming more asylum seekers and refugees. Moderate Democrats want limits on immigration and more done to curb illegal immigration and asylum seeking by those who stay in the US several years, are found not to be refugees, but are not deported because they have established US roots.

Some observers assert that legislators want to leave some problems unsolved because they motivate voters in elections. Over 60 percent of the 11 million unauthorized foreigners have been in the US at least a decade, prompting efforts to legalize at least some of them. Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) in 2018 won 54 votes for a bill to spend more on border security and provide a path to US citizenship for Dreamers.

The Biden administration is using humanitarian parole to allow foreigners to enter the US legally and work for two years if they have a private US sponsor. Over 300,000 Ukrainians entered the US under various programs including humanitarian parole by spring 2023, and another 360,000 Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians are expected to be paroled into the US by the end of 2023.

Another 670,000 foreigners from 16 countries have temporary protected status, so that 1.3 million foreigners are in the US but outside the normal immigration system. TPS is often renewed, so that foreigners may be in the US a decade or more with TPS. DHS in June 2023 extended TPS for another 18 months to 330,000 Central Americans. Hondurans and Nicaraguans were granted TPS in December 30, 1998, and Salvadorans on February 13, 2001.

Many NGOs and influential Democrats in Congress expressed disappointment with Biden on immigration. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urged Biden to allow state governors to determine if their states needed more guest workers and to increase penalties for smuggling.

Older whites cast a disproportionate share of votes in elections. About 74 percent of the electorate was non-Hispanic white in the November 2022 elections when 59 percent of the population was non-Hispanic white.

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