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Biden’s Immigration Plans Will Not Bring Politics Together

Author: NYC immigration lawyer Alena Shautsova

President Joe Biden is sat atop a house of cards. America has not just been through a political crisis, it is continuing through one. A crisis which sees both its major parties unable to come to terms with one another. Political opinion has never been so divided - amongst the public and its lawmakers. And immigration… Well, it’s never been such a hot topic.

Wearing his mantel of unity, Biden has sent an overhaul of the current system of immigration to Congress. The President’s new Immigration bill seeks to provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal non-citizens that live and work in the US. The bill will also codify the reversal of many of Trump's unconscionable policies.

While a substantive legal change to the way immigration works has been a long time coming, Biden risks a flop in Congress.

The Democrats may hold the seat of the Executive but they retain little control over the legislature. Democrats have a slim majority of 10 to play with in the House of Representatives and one Kamala Harris to tip the balance of a 50/50 Senate.

This puts any legislative agenda in a tough position. Biden needs to be careful not to alienate any sitting Democrats in the House or the Senate. And the Democrats are, as they say, a broad church. They have a varied bank of perspectives. Some Democratic Congressmen oppose parts of Biden’s reforms out of fear they will encourage foreign labor into the workforce and drive down wages for the poorest in their communities. Recent infighting over issues around immigration – be that DHS funding to relieve the squalid conditions of detainees at the border, or something else – would suggest that Democrats are as divided as ever.

Biden does pride himself as being a man that can graft opposing voices together into one harmonious om. I’m not so sure. Even if, and I say if with an emphasis beyond that which my italicizing function can offer, he can bring every single Democrat to the table, he will never convince his Republican compatriots. Despite his office’s messaging on bipartisanship, much of his reform agenda remains unpalatable to Republicans.

Republicans are looking for assurances on security. Biden’s response to this is to bolster technological capability at the border. For the GOP this sounds like an empty nod toward addressing concerns around security. Many see Biden’s bill, first and foremost, as an amnesty on illegal immigration. And second, a bill that addresses the enforcement of legal breaches.

Marked as the 2024 Republican Presidential Candidate, Senator Tom Wolf has already mounted damning opposition to Biden’s bill: “We should never support an amnesty-first, enforcement never bill that also vastly expands the number of gust visas for foreign workers to come and take American Jobs”

Last time a piece of legislation on immigration was brought before Congress was in 2013. This bill was far less ambitious next to Biden’s current set of proposals, and it failed to pass on the basis that Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to offer legal status to illegal immigrants – a change Biden is crying for, rather than discussing behind closed doors.

When it comes to passing sweeping reforms, bipartisan agreement is going to be a must. Only five of the 13 Republican Senators that voted in favor of the 2013 attempt at immigration reform still hold their seats. And two of them - Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham – have been quick to criticize the President’s plan. This doesn’t bode well for the President.

The swearing-in of President Biden set a new tone for America. After the divisive rhetoric of Trump and his hard-hitting policies on immigration, Biden’s arrival felt like a return to a kinder sort of America. Naturally, one expects a kinder legislative framework on immigration to follow. I hope it does. That said, I think we (including the President) should all recognize that kindness is not something in bountiful supply across this otherwise great country at the moment. Trump has left the Oval Office. But his cause and sentiments linger on amongst us. It is this that should serve as a word of caution to the President as his plan is put to the legislature. This is not a good time to expect slim majorities to vote in favor of sweeping reforms. They won’t. This bill may well fall victim to extensive amendment. As was the case for Obama’s healthcare reform package, Biden’s reforms risk becoming a shadow of their original vision. Obama’s agenda was met with a jaded Congress unready for swift change. Biden’s house of cards is one more divided than ever before – culturally, politically and economically. To achieve change this President needs to alter his expectation of what constitutes a victory - only modest changes are likely. If the President can’t lower his expectation... he will really have to turn up the charm to see his vision in law.

28 January 2021
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