Those of us who focus on immigration are pleased with some of the positive trends we’ve seen recently from the Biden administration response, not just cleaning up the previous administration’s immigration cruelty and chaos, but replacing it with fairness, order, and, above all, humanity.
So far, we’ve heard the president voice support during his address to Congress for legislation protecting the DREAMERS — children brought here at a tender age who are American in every way but lack the papers to show it — and protecting farmworkers and others integral to our food production chains who are a huge element of our economy. Recently we learned that the numbers of unaccompanied minors held at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities have dropped 82% over the past month, largely because the administration has taken swift action to move them into the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities. They are hopefully being paired with attorneys and social workers who can safely get them to their family members in the United States. Vice President Harris has announced an additional $310 million in aid and funding for Northern Triangle countries to help stem the flow of migrants. All of this has happened in the last few weeks alone.
President Biden has his hands full. He took the oath of office amid a lethal pandemic which took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, devastated our economy and continues to threaten the health of our nation with the appearance of more transmissible and dangerous variants. It didn’t help that only days before the president was inaugurated, his predecessor, a man who’d spent four years spewing hate and dividing the country, fomented the first armed attack against the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812.
Clearly there is a myriad of serious intersectional social justice issues that consume our consciousness. President Biden has a full plate of difficult policy issues to deal with. Immigration is among the most critical and requires immediate attention, even in the face of political posturing by Republican lawmakers. I’m confident that the smart people at the helm of this administration know how broken the immigration system is. It is my hope that they continue with a rapid response and decisive cleanup of Trump’s messes and make these important humane reforms:
- End Title 42, a 75-year-old health statute that gives quarantine authority to U.S. health officials. Trump, under the pretext of “disease travels and doesn’t care about borders,” used it to bar all asylum-seekers at the southern border. Inexplicably, the Biden administration has continued Trump’s misguided use of Title 42. This must end.
- Fund the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that can assist in countries where asylum-seekers are risking their lives to move north and escape political strife, violence and climate change.
- Defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CBP, which as institutions have become far more interested in their continued funding (while hiding their racism in plain sight), and instead work on building up institutions that support legal immigration.
- Make FEMA, DHS, ORR and HHS agencies that are truly agile in responding to human needs. We are going to need better preparation for disasters.
- Expand the FLORES settlement agreement which moves children under 18 through the system as quickly and safely as possible.
- Uphold Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and support the critical legal challenges to Trump’s unlawful attempt to cancel TPS for immigrants from the African continent, Haiti and Central America.
Why should you care about immigration? Let’s make it personal. Think about your ancestry: when did your family come here? Unless you’re Native American, you descend from people who came to this country as immigrants, some long ago, some more recently. My ancestors came from Scotland and bought land in South Carolina in the Cape Fear region. Sadly, they were plantation owners who exploited slaves. The other side of my family escaped prison time in England by travelling to Canada and then crossing down into Montana, where they became the adventurous and independent people that we all think of as Westerners.
When you think of the people who came here before you, you understand why they took the journey. Migration with the purpose of finding a better life is part of human nature. It has brought us the communities that founded our country, the adventurers who explored the West, the entrepreneurs and inventors who created our great industries. But most importantly it has brought us much of the labor that built it all. We have come in waves, English, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Polish, you name it. This is the fabric of our country and what makes us so great. The “American Dream” has fueled our cultural perception of ourselves and become the envy of the world for two and a half centuries. We have had ugly racist setbacks — even beyond our exploitation of the forced migration and enslavement of Black people that continues to haunt us. We used the hard work of Mexican Braceros and the Chinese railroad workers to power our country and then denied them legal status when we were done with them.
But clearly one of our biggest failures has been the wholesale refusal of Central American migrants at our southern border by the previous administration, which systematically disassembled every mechanism that allowed for legal immigation and asylum seeking: a universal human right. These misguided policies contradict what helps to build our economy, our standing in the world and ultimately our security. As our economy begins to roar back, we are just starting to feel that labor shortage, especially in those areas where newer immigrants, willing to begin at the bottom, have always filled the gap. With our aging population and declining birth rates in many states, we will face more of those problems if we do not come to our senses on immigration policy.
But enough with history and economics. Let’s get back to our morals. Many of us who watched in horror while children were being ripped away from their parents and put into cages — literally creating human rights abuses that could be tried as crimes against humanity — put our entire beings into making sure that there was a new administration under President Biden and Vice President Harris. For us, and many of you, Trump’s vision of America’s future was not an option. When we held Lights for Liberty Vigils, over 800 communities around the world joined us to say “No” to the horrific policies being implemented at the border. Vice President Harris has been tasked by the president to turn her attention to border issues, and we look for her to continue to be the incisive thinker and leader that we have come to know. While there has been good progress in the first 100 days, there is so much more to do.
Immigration isn’t a pet project for election years, to be ignored by our legislators once the votes have been counted. Immigration is about our healthy economy, our long standing world image and our culture. Most importantly, it is about our morality and human legacy as Americans. Let’s never again forget the words of Emma Lazarus, which can be found on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Photo by Robert Locke on Unsplash
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